Turkey links U.S. consulate worker to terrorists, seeks life sentence

Turkish prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for a local employee of the U.S. consulate over links to an organisation accused of orchestrating the failed coup of July 2016, the Associated Press reported.

The indictment against Turkish national Metin Topuz, who has been in jail since October 2017, said he was in close contact with police officers who led a 2013 anti-corruption investigation that implicated top Turkish officials. Ankara accuses followers of  U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen of conducting the probe.

Turkey blames Gülen and his followers for the 2016 coup attempt and has labelled his network a terrorist group.

The indictment said Topuz, who worked for the Drug Enforcement Agency in the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, told authorities he had been in touch with several police officers with alleged links to Gülen as part of narcotic investigations, the AP said on Sunday.

The prosecutor said Topuz's communication with the Gülen-linked officers, which included telephone calls, text messages and more, was "beyond the limits of consular work”, according to the report. A judge will soon decide whether the case will go to trial.

Topuz's arrest increased tensions between NATO allies Turkey and the United States in 2017 and led to the suspension of bilateral visa services for more than two months.

Relations soured further in summer 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump sanctioned two Turkish officials and increased tariffs on aluminum and steel imports in an effort to pressure Ankara to release an imprisoned American pastor, said AP. Pastor Andrew Brunson was convicted in October of links to terrorist groups, but released and allowed to leave the country.

Two other Turkish former staffers at the U.S. consulate remain in prison, while a Turkish-American scientist for NASA faces terrorism charges.

Following the failed coup, Turkey cracked down on the Gülen movement, arresting more than 77,000 people and suspending or sacking 150,000 public employees through emergency decrees. Critics say the purge went beyond the suspects of the coup with the arrest of journalists, lawmakers and activists.

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