ANKARA, Turkey — In covert operations in 18 countries, Turkey's intelligence agency has snatched around 80 Turkish citizens who the government wanted for alleged links to the country's 2016 failed coup, a top Turkish official said Thursday.
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag's comments in an interview with Haberturk television came after Turkey secretly arranged the deportation from Kosovo of six Turkish men — five teachers and a doctor — accused of supporting the coup attempt.
The move angered Kosovo's prime minister, who fired the country's interior minister and intelligence chief for not telling him about it, and drew sharp criticism from human rights groups.
Bozdag said the National Intelligence Agency had similarly "bundled up and brought back" suspects linked to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen in covert operations in 18 countries. He did not name the countries but said such operations would continue.
Turkey has accused Gulen of being behind the failed coup attempt that resulted in more than 250 deaths, a claim that he denies.
Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin denied, however, that the suspects were abducted through illegal operations. He insisted the six men from Kosovo were brought back in agreement with the country's authorities.
"We have never engaged in any illegal act in our struggle against (Gulen's movement)," Kalin said. "The event in Kosovo took place ... within the framework of an agreement on the return of criminals."
Those deported from Kosovo worked in schools and clinics supported by Gulen's movement.
At home, Turkey has arrested more than 38,000 people for alleged links to Gulen and fired some 110,000 public servants since the coup attempt. Many of those arrested or fired have proclaimed their innocence.