Flemish minister: Turkish-sponsored mosque is ‘nest of spies’

The Fatih mosque, in Beringen. [Gold FM/Twitter]

The Flemish interior minister has taken action against a mosque supported by Turkey, whose imam is suspected of informing Ankara about supporters of Fethullah Gülen, the self-exiled cleric accused of being the mastermind behind last year’s failed coup.

Liesbeth Homans, of the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), a nationalist party represented in the federal government, will begin the process of withdrawing recognition of the Fatih mosque in Beringen, Limburg, the country’s second largest mosque, the Belgian press reported yesterday (6 April).

The mosque is part of the Diyanet network of the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs, which has been criticised over allegations of espionage and surveillance. Accordingly, the imam and his team would inform the Turkish government about ongoing debates in the Turkish community in Beringen. Of the town’s 46,000 inhabitants, 7,000 are of Turkish origin, most of them former miners. Turkey would like to locate and identify local Gülen supporters, Het Laatste Nieuws reported.

Liesbeth Homans had already asked Federal Justice Minister Koen Geens last December that the Sûreté, the Belgian counter-espionage agency, to send her the information required for the possible withdrawal of recognition of the mosque. She received it this week.

“From the documents delivered to us, it appears that practices have taken place in Beringen, which go against the conditions applying to the mosques recognised in Flanders,” the minister said.

For his part, the Socialist Party (SP.a) Mayor of Beringen, Maurice Webers, says he does not understand this initiative: “I regularly meet the mosque officials, talk about everything. Bridges are built and should not be destroyed,” he stated.

Homans rejected Webers’ position. “The procedure is what it is. I just followed it,” she said, adding that the process of withdrawing the mosque’s recognition is well underway.

She also said that the mayor’s objections were “strange”, as there have been rumours of Turkish interference for several months already.

The Muslim Executive of Belgium must now give its position, and the local management of the mosque will have the opportunity to defend itself.

Tensions are running high between Ankara and Western capitals ahead of a referendum in Turkey next month which proposes expanding the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Reports of Turkish espionage targeting members of Germany’s large ethnic Turkish diaspora have deepened the rift.

Germany rejects Turkish request to spy on Gulenists

Germany launched a second investigation yesterday (28 March) into suspected spying by Turkey and its interior minister said Berlin would not tolerate foreign espionage on its soil.

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