Turkey's spy agency has snatched 80 citizens from 18 countries
Ankara has chased Gulen members since the failed coup
Turkey's intelligence agents have snatched 80 citizens from 18 countries as part of a sweeping operation against suspected members of the 2016 coup attempt, a deputy prime minister said on Thursday.
Ankara accuses US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen and his followers of being behind the July 15 coup bid and has vowed to wipe out the influence of the movement not just in Turkey but also in foreign states where it has built up substantial influence, especially in education.
Mr Gulen denies the charges, insisting he runs a peaceful movement known as Hizmet (Service), but Turkey calls Mr Gulen's group the Fethullah Terror Organisation (Feto).
"The MIT [National Intelligence Organisation] has so far taken 80 Feto members from 18 countries and brought them back to Turkey," said Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, also government spokesman, in a television interview on Thursday.
Turkey has chased Gulen members inside and outside the country since the failed coup, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledging to cleanse state institutions of the Gulen "virus".
However the figure of 80 disclosed by Mr Bozdag is much larger than previously assumed and indicates MIT has taken suspects in secret operations.
Mr Bozdag did not say when or from which countries the citizens were taken.
Last month five Turkish teachers and a doctor, all alleged to be Gulenists, were flown back to Turkey from Kosovo in a covert operation carried out by the Pristina interior ministry and MIT.
The operation sparked a crisis in Kosovo, with both the prime minister and president protesting that they were not informed.
But Mr Bozdag trumpeted the Kosovo operation, full details of which have yet to be disclosed, as an example of MIT's success.
"MIT has dealt a big blow to Feto through operations carried out abroad," Mr Bozdag said.
"The operation in Kosovo is a big accomplishment."
Kosovo's Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj sacked his top security chiefs over their involvement in the operation, drawing an angry rebuke from Mr Erdogan.
"Hey Kosovo prime minister, who told you to do this? Since when did you start to protect those who tried to launch a coup in the Turkey?" he said.
The Turkish news agency Anadolu has described the six men expelled from Kosovo as senior individuals in the Gulen movement who were organising the international travel of members.
Turkey has arrested more than 38,000 people for links to Mr Gulen and fired about 110,000 public servants, including judges, members of the armed forces and police, and academics.
Updated: April 5, 2018 08:13 PM