German spy chief: Turkey important for counterterrorism

Hans-Georg Maassen says working with Turkish intelligence remains ‘very important’ despite political spats with Ankara

The head of Germany’s domestic security agency on Tuesday described Turkish intelligence as an “important partner” in fighting terrorism.

Hans-Georg Maassen was speaking at a news conference in Berlin, where his Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) was presenting its annual report.

Alongside Maassen was Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere who said it was in the interests of both Turkey and Germany to continue cooperating on security issues, despite recent political disagreements.

“The geostrategic situation of Turkey shows that we also have an interest in working with Turkey in the fight against terrorism,” he said.

De Maiziere said intelligence sharing on suspected foreign fighters returning from conflict regions like Syria and Iraq to Germany was particularly important.

Recent political spats between Berlin and Ankara have also put security cooperation between the two countries at risk, as authorities cancelled several planned meetings over the past few months.

Disagreements over FETO

Relations between Ankara and Berlin have been rocky since the failed coup attempt in Turkey last July.

Turkish authorities have sharply criticized Germany for not arresting suspects believed to have been involved in the coup attempt. Berlin has said Ankara should first provide legally sound evidence.

Turkey’s government has also accused Germany of tolerating the activities of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) which is believed to have organized the 2016 attempted military takeover.

Asked on Tuesday about Ankara’s expectations of German domestic intelligence in monitoring FETO activities in its jurisdiction, de Maiziere said the group’s members in Germany were not involved in anti-constitutional activities.

Led by U.S.-based cleric Fetullah Gulen, FETO has a large network in Germany, which is home to a three-million-strong Turkish community.

FETO has been careful so far not to attract criticism from the German public, particularly focusing on interfaith dialogue programs plus delivering moderate messages to win the trust of the media, influential churches and political institutions.

Since the failed coup attempt last year, nearly 4,000 FETO suspects went to Germany from Turkey and other countries, according to local media reports.

More than 420 Turkish citizens with suspected ties to FETO — who hold diplomatic or service passports — have also sought asylum in Germany; several have been granted leave to stay in the country.