The terror group began secretly infiltrating Turkey's state institutions from the 1970s until its kingpin, Fetullah Gulen, took his deadly aim on the night of July 15, 2016.
For the first time since post-War independence, Turkey defeated a military coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The members of the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation, known as FETO, infiltrated a section of the Turkish Armed Forces and, on that fateful night - with tanks and heavily armed soldiers on the streets - they killed 251 people and wounded over two thousand more.
The plot, however, was to fail. Turkish people swarmed the streets raging with condemnation and put up a valiant resistance against the rogue soldiers.
The failed coup attempt became a significant chapter in Turkey's history.
How did Gulen, an elderly man who evaded the Turkish justice system and lives in an American city under US protection since 1999, manage to infiltrate Turkey's state institutions? It started in the 1960s.
Sometime between 1962 and 1963, Gulen became a board member of ‘The Struggle Against Communism Association’ in his birthplace, Erzurum, a quiet city in eastern Anatolia, famous for its castles and low lying hills. Amid the height of the Cold War, his anti-Communism activism reportedly brought him close to America's premier intelligence agency, the CIA.
He had started preaching in mosques from the age of 17, a trait that had introduced him to the religious circles of Erzurum. He eventually joined Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs and became an official Imam.
From the beginning, Gulen sought social recognition and often associated himself with Said Nursi, the founder of Turkey's ‘Nur Movement,’ which promoted the timely re-interpretation of the Quran at a time when Turkish Muslims struggled to practice their religion free from the fear of state retribution.
By the early 1970s, Gulen had built a network of followers and he started a so-called Hizmet (Service) Movement, which claimed to be completely apolitical and only devoted to providing education to its members.
Gulen could not hide his dangerous ambitions for long. In one of his closed-door speeches in the 1990s, he encouraged the members of Hizmet to slowly penetrate state institutions and feed on everything from the judiciary to police, to army and to small and big businesses. "Until you have the power to take on the world on your shoulder and carry it on, until you take hold of things which represent that power, until you capture the power at all constitutional institutions in Turkey’s state structure, all steps you are about to take are early,” he said while addressing his group members sometime in the 1990s.
Gulen used to take a dig at the Young Turks Movement, which abolished the Ottoman monarchy and established a secular Turkish state after the World War I, saying that the movement had gone astray. He advocated that education was the best response in solving the country's problems, a position that attracted a growing number of young people from middle class families.
The network swells
Gulen came under the radar of the Turkish army in 1971. He was judged by a military commission for undermining the secular charter of the Turkish Republic. In 1974, he was pardoned and released.
By 1977, Gulen funded a program that financed at least 70 shared apartments for poor students. Among the members of his organisations, these apartments were called "lighthouses" and they quickly grew in number.
In June 1980, three months prior to the military coup, Gulen displayed his remarkable skill of cajolery. He glorified the army in an article published in ‘Sizinti Journal,’ which eventually helped him get off the army's hook. Many regional observers of that time believed that he was aware of what would come to pass in three months, protecting himself by praising the army in the article.
In 1981, amidst the iron-fisted rule of the Turkish military, Gulen resigned from the Directorate of Religious Affairs.
By then, the so-called lighthouses had reached 100 and his network began to collect intelligence on the state's secrets.
The organisation spread its wings outside of Turkey. From 1991 onwards, it opened schools in at least 160 countries covering a vast expanse of the globe from Central Asia to South Asia and Africa.
The organisation built a mansion on 130 acres of land in the US state of Pennsylvania, where Gulen permanently moved in 1999.
By the 1990s, Gulen and his foundation had realised that its educational institutions were the key in recruiting more and more young people to their way of thinking. He opened private tuition centres across Turkey under the name of Firat Educational Center (FEM), and gave administrative control to what he called ‘brothers’ in each city.
The combination of private teaching institutions and lighthouses turned into a fully-fledged production mill for Gulen. The students who graduated were enrolled in military colleges and police academies, while those who lived in 'lighthouses' joined religious seminaries to eventually become government-approved Imams.
Gulen's links with the CIA have been reported widely in the Turkish press. By the late 1990s, he was one of the strong advocates of American supremacy in the world. In 1997, he said in an interview that “Without having a friendly relationship with the US, you can not take even a single step forward."
"If we are able to open schools across the world, it is because of our relationship with the US. Americans are the ones who are the captain of the ship of the world,” he added.
Gulen made several trips to the US in the late 1990s, saying he travels to the country for medical treatment. No condition of disease was ever disclosed. The then Turkish attorney general, Nuh Mete Yuksel, opened an investigation but Gulen again went to the US, citing health reasons. He has not returned since.
The investigation was triggered by a report filed by the chief of Ankara police, Cevdet Saral. It explained how the Gulen movement was "infiltrating the Turkish state”.
As the report was sent to the Turkish National Police Intelligence Service, Gulen left the country soon after.
His relationship with Pope Jean Paul II came under public scrutiny in the late 1990s. The Pope at the time declared “Redemptoris Missio” (Savior Messiah) and wrote a letter aimed at turning all people back to churches. It caught Gulen’s attention.
Gulen wrote to the Pope, praising his vision of ‘Christianising’ the world in the third millennium. He offered his services, saying he was reading to be part of a dialogue between different religions to realise the goal of “Redemptoris Missio”.
From the days of his preaching in his hometown, Gulen has displayed a need for being close to the corridors of power. As the AK Party was elected as the government in Turkey in 2002, he tried to cultivate a relationship with it.
Infiltrating the Turkish state
By 2005, however, he had started conspiring against the AK Party. According to Turkish intelligence sources, Gulen's henchmen tried to obtain data on the government, the companies and people that support the AK Party and Erdogan.
As per several newspaper reports, Gulen's men even contacted Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan in 2012, asking him to testify against the government and organise a jurisdictional coup in December the same year.
The move came in light of the Turkish government's decision to close Gulen's private education institutions in Turkey.
Dubbed the “MIT conspiracy” after the Turkish initials of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), the trial is delving into the group’s role in an attempt to detain MIT Director, Hakan Fidan, and others in 2012. The court in Silivri, where a high-security complex which serves both as a prison and a courthouse campus on Istanbul’s European side, decided to close the trial to the press as it involved intelligence matters. Fourteen defendants in the case are in custody, while 15 others are still at large. Others were earlier released pending trial. The case has 32 plaintiffs, including Fidan, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former ministers.
Prosecutors say it was “the first open attempt by FETO – whose ultimate purpose was to topple the government – against the government."
The indictment points out that the group sought to remove the head of the intelligence service through a sham investigation. Fidan and several other public officials were summoned to testify by FETO-linked prosecutors on February 7, 2012, over allegations of MIT's ties to the terrorist group PKK. Later investigations revealed that the prosecutors and judges ultimately sought to arrest Fidan to trigger a crisis. Fidan did not testify in court upon the instructions of Erdogan, who was prime minister at the time.
A considerable amount of evidence derived from witness testimony, interrogations, video footage and notes that were obtained after the night of July 15 in Turkey, appear to show that Fetullah Gulen, and his Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), were behind the coup attempt that took place on July 15, 2016.
Several former soldiers appear to have confessed that they had been FETO members for a considerable amount of time, sometimes as early as military high school, and that Gulen was behind the coup attempt.
Adil Oksuz, regarded as the main coup plotter after Gulen, was at Akinci 4th Main Jet Base Command, near the capital Ankara, on the night of the attempt.
Oksuz is said to have played a key role in the attempt to overthrow the government - he served as an "imam" to FETO members in the Turkish Air Force. He remains on the run after having been released following his arrest.
The former professor returned to Turkey two days before the coup attempt. He had travelled abroad 109 times since 2002.
Oksuz allegedly travelled to the US on July 11 on the same plane as Kemal Batmaz who later identified as the second-in-command in the coup’s make up.
Police have also noticed that the terrorist group PKK received information from Turkish soldiers, who belong to the FETO terror organisation, over radio frequency.