While Turkey works to expose the putschist plots of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), other countries that also recognize the FETO terrorist threat have been similarly working to protect their peace, stability, and security.

Five years ago this week in Turkey, FETO and its US-based leader Fetullah Gulen orchestrated the defeated July 15, 2016 coup that left 251 people dead and 2,734 injured.

Ankara also accuses FETO of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police, judiciary, and schools.

FETO also has a considerable presence outside Turkey, including private schools that serve as a revenue stream for the terrorist group.

In 2016, Turkey established the Maarif Foundation to take over former FETO terror-linked schools abroad. In the five years since, it has put 220 schools in 19 countries worldwide into responsible new administration.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Muhammad Sohail Sajid, a lawyer of Pakistan’s High Court based in the capital of Islamabad, spoke of the FETO threat in Pakistan and government efforts to “remove the dark pall and expose their true face,” including FETO’s illicit groups posing as educational institutions.

The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Anadolu Agency: Please tell us about yourself and how you got involved in a pitched legal battle against FETO.

Muhammad Sohail Sajid: I am Muhammad Sohail Sajid, a Pakistani lawyer of the High Court based in Islamabad, known as always for standing to protect the interest of the public at large.

It’s a very basic question that needs to be appreciated with its background. As one of the signatories a few years back of the Turkish-Pakistani Lawyer’s Cooperation pact, I arranged a visit of the Punjab Bar Council from Pakistan, which signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Union of Turkish Bar Associations in Ankara.

Soon after the 2016 military coup’s failure to overthrow a democratic, elected government in Turkey, our counterparts contacted us to learn what we could extend as support in Pakistan, as part of the MoU, to honor the bilateral commitment that we, the legal fraternity, shall stand by democracy and the rule of law through thick and thin.

In response to this, we started this movement in Pakistan from July 15, 2016 onwards to help our brother nation identify the hideout operations of FETO in the country and to take remedial measures against them.

FETO’s legal facade for infiltrating Pakistan

Q: What kind of challenges and difficulties did you encounter during your legal confrontation with FETO? And what techniques did it use to operate in Pakistan?

SAJID: Actually, it is very complex to understand the structure of FETO, which is equally important for the global community to conceive, as it long remained a mystery and a misconception. Basically, the Pak-Turk International Cag Educational Foundation (PTICEF) was an international educational, non-profit, and non-governmental organization registered in the Republic of Turkey under the Charities Act, having its registered office in Turkey as Cag Educational Corporation.

In order to carry out its objectives and intentions to promote education and allied purposes, it signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government of Pakistan through its Economic Affairs Division in 1999. This initiative was fully endorsed and supported by the Turkish government.

Additionally, it also started operating all over the world with similar arrangements and objectives. To disseminate quality education at low cost to the Pakistani people, some material resources were provided by the government of Pakistan including land for school buildings in central locations in various cities. In all, 28 schools were established under this arrangement.

Post-coup bid period in Pakistan

SAJID: In July 2016, the parent organization (Cag Educational Corporation) of the Pak-Turk Education Foundation was found to be an entity owned and directly controlled by an organization involved in the military coup to overthrow the democratically elected government of Turkey. The coup was foiled as a sound and successful popular resistance against the plotters.

Subsequent investigations organized by the Turkish government established that FETO was not only involved in destabilizing activities in Turkey but also in various other countries where such schools were established and controlled by them.

The Turkish government declared them the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO). As a consequence, FETO was also recognized as a terror organization by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as well as the Asian Parliament Assembly and by the 43rd session of OIC foreign ministers in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

After their declaration as a terrorist group, most of the countries in Asia and Africa extradited or expelled members of FETO-affiliated organizations from their territories and took control of schools established under the foundation and handed them over to the Turkish government.

Efforts for a legal shield

SAJID: It is pertinent to mention here that the FETO-linked Pak-Turk Education Foundation (PTEF) had been granted international non-governmental organization status in Pakistan.

In order to conceal its designs, the PTEF was deceptively registered as a company with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan without the consent or permission of the original signatories of the basic MoU entered and executed on Oct. 30, 1999.

There were clear apprehensions that FETO, under the guise of imparting education to our children, could turn them into extremists through their mindset.

Moreover, they were charging one of the highest fees in the school system of our country. The finances generated by the school system and their allied shadow organizations were found to be channeled to FETO outfits around the world.

Upon receiving intimation from the Turkish government, the Ministry of the Interior canceled all MoUs signed with the Pak-Turk Education Foundation because, deceptively, they were registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan to perpetuate its terrorist agenda financed by FETO.

The will of two governments, i.e. Pakistan and Turkey, was defeated by a fraudulent exercise of its registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission and creating a fake board of governors.

The issuance of a No Objection Certificate as a registered company was itself a violation of the permission by the governments of Pakistan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, as well as from the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey. There were more than 400 Turkish citizens in Pakistan at the time, running and administering almost 14 different shadow organizations, including the schools, and most of them were an active part of FETO.

Having realized that Turkey would demand their extradition from Pakistan, they somehow managed to get refugee status from the United Nations office in Pakistan. Though they were not Syrians in Turkey or Myanmar Muslims in Bangladesh, they were still able to get refugee status in Pakistan.

Also, they filed different writ petitions in all four high courts in Pakistan and received 18 restraining orders, one after the other, directing the state of Pakistan not to extradite or hand over them to Turkey and also restraining the government from handing over FETO-linked schools which were demanded by our sister country.

The Pakistani government, having a clear will and resolve to hand over the school system to Turkey, was not able to execute the same due to court orders.

Pakistani, Turkish governments vs. FETO

SAJID: I remained a part of this struggle to curb their nefarious agenda and ultimately, I filed a constitutional petition with the Supreme Court of Pakistan with the pleas that the federal government has enough reasons at the local and international level to be directed to declare FETO a terror organization and to list it in the First Schedule according to Section 11-B of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, in the best interest of the public at large.

Section 11-B says: “The Federal Government may, by order published in the Official Gazette, list an organization as a proscribed organization in the First Schedule on an ex-Parte basis, if there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is— (a) concerned in terrorism; or (b) owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by any individual or organization proscribed under this Act; or (c) acting on behalf of, or at the direction of, any individual or organization proscribed under this Act.”

It further explains that the opinion concerning reasonable grounds to believe may be formed on the basis of information received from any credible source, whether domestic or foreign, including governmental and regulatory authorities, law enforcement agencies, financial intelligence units, banks and non-banking companies, and international institutions.

Then the existing management of the Pak-Turk Education Foundation applied to the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan to change its name to the “Golden Generation Education Foundation,” but their request was directed for rejection because an organization which was established with an understanding between the two states, under current management, cannot change its status or name to any other level without permission from the respective states.

The second plea of the subject petition was that in light of the understanding during the highest official meetings between the two governments held on Nov. 16, 2016, and Feb. 22, 2017, the honorable court may be pleased to declare the registration of the company opposed to the national interest, security, and integrity of Pakistan.

It was further requested that the federal government be directed to take over the management of Turkish schools and subsequently to hand over them over to the Turkiye Maarif Foundation in the best interest of historic relations between the sister Muslim states.

Here, I referred to Article 40 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which clearly speaks of strengthening the bonds with the Muslim world and promoting international peace. It says: “The state shall endeavor to preserve and strengthen the fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic Unity, support the common interest of people of Asia, Africa and Latin America, promote international peace and security, foster goodwill and friendly relations among all nations and encourage the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means.”

After consecutive hearings in the top court of Pakistan, my petition was allowed as plead for, and Pakistan became the first country in the world outside Turkey to declare FETO a terror outfit and subsequently to ban it. But this is not the end of the story.

FETO involved in money laundering, terrorist financing

Q: What’s the current status of FETO in Pakistan?

SAJID: Soon after the announcement of the remarkable verdict of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, its wanted terrorists fled the country and moved to some parts of Europe but mainly, they established themselves in African Union countries, where they already had some roots and networks for a couple of decades.

Q: As they fled Pakistan and most of them went to Africa, as an expert jurist, were you still able to organize something efforts against them in Africa?

SAJID: Yes. Given the strong bonds between our two nations, I was persuaded to show our genuine outpouring and unflinching support to our Turkish brethren. I visited Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where I held meetings with the heads of their state institutions. I warned authorities about the concealed operations of FETO, that how under the cover and veil of philanthropists, these FETO members are involved in money laundering and terrorist financing.

Moreover, I told them of the lurking fear of the youth getting involved in the nefarious activities. Further, I briefed how a sinister linkage and illicit activities have been identified by various countries including Pakistan about FETO and the management of their organized school systems.

The organization has been associated with subversive international terrorism, which is evident in its spreading violence and imperiling the political stability and security of the Republic of Turkey in the recent past.

Many other countries have also been experiencing terrorism of unprecedented quality and magnitude for more than a decade. Timely and appropriate action is required where this terrorism already has a monstrous face in the world.

Any sort of showing misplaced softness towards FETO could wreak havoc with the public interest and the national security of your country.

The authorities in Addis Ababa showed their uprightness and full support, which resulted in the start of criminal investigations against the FETO network in Ethiopia.

Lastly, I would request that security agencies, regulatory authorities, and the world community keep a sharp eye on the hidden and nebulous activities of FETO, and particularly that parents keep vigilance over their youth to save them from the network spread by FETO. They always exploited the love of the people of Pakistan for their brethren in Turkey until their true face was exposed.

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