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Third employee of US consulate in Istanbul indicted on terror charges

ISTANBUL: Turkey has indicted a third US Consulate employee and his wife and daughter on charges of membership of a terrorist group.

The move is likely to further strain ties between Ankara and Washington.

A security officer at US consulate in Istanbul Nazmi Mete Canturk, a security officer at the US Consulate in Istanbul, and his wife and daughter were indicted on the charges of having link to the network of Fethullah Gulen, the US-based Muslim cleric blamed by Ankara for a failed 2016 coup.

A Turkish prosecutor is seeking jail sentences for all three on charges of membership of an armed terrorist organisation, according to the indictment, which was completed on March 8 but has not been made public.

It says Canturk was in contact with dozens of individuals under investigation for being members of Gulen’s network and that “evidence has been obtained regarding the suspect’s actions in line with the instructions of the (terrorist) organisation”.

Canturk, his wife and daughter are cited in the indictment as denying the charges.

A spokesman for the Istanbul prosecutor’s office did not respond to a request for comment. A lawyer for Canturk declined to comment. The US Consulate referred questions to Washington.

A State Department spokeswoman said Washington had seen no credible evidence that Canturk was involved in any illegal activities and that, in his 30-year career, he had had many contacts with Turkish government and security officials in the course of his work. She called for a timely, transparent, and fair resolution of his case.

She added that the United States has raised Canturk’s case with the Turkish government. “We have expressed our concerns on multiple occasions to the Turkish government at the highest levels publicly and privately,” she said.

Canturk was questioned by Istanbul police in January 2018 and subsequently put under house arrest, according to the indictment and a preliminary proceedings report seen by Reuters. That report, dated March 22, said that his first hearing would be held on June 25.

Two other locally employed US Consulate workers, also Turkish citizens, were arrested in 2017 on terrorism and espionage charges. The detentions prompted Washington to suspend non-immigrant visa applications from the country, triggering a reciprocal move from Ankara which snowballed into one of the worst crises between the two NATO allies.