Skip to main content

Kosovo PM sacks security chief after six 'Gulenists' extradited to Turkey

Kosovo said it was not informed about the covert operation carried out with the assistance of Turkish intelligence agents
President of the Republic of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, meets with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during his official visit to Ankara (President-ksgov.net)

Kosovo authorities are investigating the arrest and extradition of six Turkish citizens, which activists said represented a violation of human rights, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said on Saturday.

Kosovo's prime minister has sacked his top security chiefs and ordered a probe into the expulsion of six members of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen's movement, which is blamed by Turkey for a 2016 coup attempt.

Five teachers at a Gulen school and a doctor were spirited back to Turkey on Thursday in a covert operation carried out by Kosovo's interior ministry and spy service together with Turkey's National Intelligence Organisation (MIT).

Haradinaj told reporters after an emergency meeting of his national security council on Saturday that he has dismissed interior minister Flamur Sefaj and intelligence chief Driton Gashi over their involvement in the operation.

"They were obliged to inform me [about the expulsion]. They did not. They did not have enough trust to share the case with me, so I no longer trust them. They have lost my confidence," he said.

He also said he has ordered each institution involved to "fully engage in clarifying institutional responsibilities, possible constitutional and legal violations and immediately undertake comprehensive, detailed investigations".

Gulen, a one-time ally turned foe of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who now lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, is accused by Ankara of being behind the failed military coup attempt in July 2016.

Gulen strongly denies the claims.

Turkish intelligence involved in operation

Erdogan said on Saturday the six men had been captured by Turkish intelligence officers and brought to Turkey.

"Our national intelligence agency captured six of the highest ranking members of [Gulen's network] in the Balkans in the operation it conducted in Kosovo," said Erdogan, speaking to supporters and party members in Istanbul.

He added that he was saddened by the sacking of the Kosovo interior minister and secret service chief.

Human Rights Watch criticised the Kosovo authorities over the arrests.                                                                   

"In addition to the questionable arrests, the men were sent to a country where they face a serious risk of torture," the watchdog said in a statement.

Kosovan students gathered to protest the extradition of their teachers (Reuters)

Turkish state news agency Anadolu described the six men expelled from Kosovo as senior individuals in the Gulen movement.

The Istanbul prosecutor is investigating the men who, according to Anadolu, were organising the movement of Gulenists from Turkey to European countries and the United States.

One of the six, Kahraman Demirez, is accused of helping to increase involvement in the movement in the Balkans, while Cihan Ozkan is suspected of sending money collected from Balkan countries to leaders of the Gulen movement in Pennsylvania, Anadolu said.

Kosovo has been under pressure from Turkey in recent weeks to take action against schools funded by the Gulen organisation.

Relatives of the six had stayed at Pristina airport until early on Saturday after rumours spread that they might still be in Kosovo.

They left after the police said the six had been sent to Turkey on Thursday.

"My father was kidnapped," said one relative, Mustafa Gunakan, outside the airport. "We thought we were safe in Kosovo. We never thought it would end this way."

Children of top politicians in Kosovo, including President Hashim Thaci's son, go to Gulen schools.