Turkish police remove followers of Islamist opposition figure Kuytul from mosques

Turkish authorities removed by force the followers of opposition Islamist figure Alpaslan Kuytul from three mosques in southeastern Turkey, saying their congregational gathering violated pandemic regulations, Deutsche Welle Turkish reported.

Video footage showed a scrimmage between police and a group of people at a mosque in southeastern Gaziantep province on Sunday. The group is seen being forcibly removed from the Muslim house of worship, with one officer captured using pepper spray.

Turkey last week began a nationwide lockdown amid soaring COVID-19 infections, but mosques remain open for daily worship with social distancing measures.

A group of 76 people were trying to confine themselves without permission in the mosques for an Islamic practice known as “itikaf,’’ observed during the final 10 days of Ramadan, according to Gaziantep officials, Deutsche Welle said.

Mosque officials notified the police after they refused to leave, it said.

The Gaziantep governor's office on Monday said the officer who used pepper spray inside the mosque had been suspended and that 76 people had previous terrorism investigations launched against them.

Kuytul, the head of the Istanbul-based Furkan Foundation,was arrested in Jan. 2018, along with dozens of the foundation’s directors and members, following a raid on his Istanbul home over suspicion of terrorism, and released on parole after serving 22 months behind bars.

The 55-year-old Islamist leader is a vocal critic of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

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