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US: Fox News report on Maryland mosque draws criticism

By Safvan Allahverdi,

Washington: Citing comments by members of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), a major U.S. news channel has attempted to defame the Maryland-based Diyanet Center of America (DCA) and Turkish mosques across the country.

An article titled “Critics say Turkish government using US mosques to play politics, spy on foes” published Tuesday by Hollie McKay, a reporter for the U.S.-based Fox News Channel, claimed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promotes “Islamist-nationalistic” fervor through a network of mosques and religious centers.

Targeting the DCA — the largest mosque in the U.S., which was inaugurated by Erdogan in 2016 — the article also accused the center of “collecting data illegally” on behalf of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT).

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“The allegations were absolutely provocative, biased and manipulative,” the president of the DCA, Fatih Kanca, told Anadolu Agency Wednesday, adding that the aim of the allegations is to undermine the unity and solidarity of the Turkish Muslim community by weakening religious and nationalist sentiment.

Kanca said he regretted that the Islamophobia in European countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Austria had begun to impact American society.

“This is saddening. Under no circumstances has any imam or employee of our mosques acted contrary to the Constitution and laws of this country. Nor will they,” he noted, adding they were only making efforts to enhance socio-cultural values of American society, not to manipulate them.

Kanca emphasized that the center has been transparently engaging with the authorities of the state of Maryland and does not do anything against U.S. law.

In the report, Fox News also accused employees of the DCA and other Turkish mosques in the country of not accepting FETO members on their premises by hanging banners that read “FETO is not welcome here” as well as intimidating and targeting them in the U.S.

The report cited the former deputy of Turkish main opposition party CHP Aykan Erdemir, FETO fugitive and former Chief of the Counter-Terrorism and Operations Division of the Turkish National Police Ahmet Sait Yayla, former Ankara representative of the defunct FETO publication Today’s Zaman Abdullah Bozkurt and an anonymous journalist over the allegations.

FETO and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gulen orchestrated a defeated coup in Turkey in July 2016 which left 251 people martyred and nearly 2,200 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 and judiciary.

FETO also has a considerable presence outside Turkey, including private educational institutions that serve as a revenue stream for the terrorist group, including in the U.S.

Rejecting the claim that FETO members are not being allowed to enter the DCA and Turkish mosques across the country, Kanca underlined that they have never experienced any incident of showing the door to anyone, even a pro-FETO person.

“We will never and will not in any way single out someone and never has a banner saying ‘pro-FETO people cannot enter’ been written,” he said. “Those who are traitors and terrorists that attack our country [Turkey] and its citizens with warplanes do not come to our mosque anyway. And they never have.”

Describing FETO as “one of the most dangerous terrorist groups along with the PKK and Daesh” [ISIS], Kanca added that it was designated as a terrorist organization for what they did in Turkey during the coup attempt and the DCA had nothing to do with any terrorist organization.

Touching on another claim by Fox News that the center has been funded by the Turkish government to promote its “Islamist-nationalistic” fervor, Kanca rejected the claim, saying the center and its likes are non-profit organizations, maintaining themselves through aid from businesspeople and citizens.

“We have no income that can be evaluated as illegal. We do not have any document that we cannot submit to pertinent officials,” he added.

The Secretary General of the DCA, Ahmet Aydilek, also told Anadolu Agency that the center has taken the necessary steps and safety precautions against the allegations.

“We have talked with Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, Maryland Representative Anthony Brown as well as local government and security units,” Aydilek noted. “They all told us that they would visit us at the earliest to show their support.”

Citing the Muslims who visit the DCA on a regular basis, he also said the center “is one of the most beautiful structures with its artistic design and representation of Islamic culture that can be handed down to the next generations”.

Aydilek also emphasized that “many churches which were inherited from the Byzantine and the Roman empires still remain functional in Turkey and Turkish people have always respected and embraced these structures”.

“Our Christian citizens can freely go and fulfill their religious obligations there. However, it is extremely saddening to be tarnished by these baseless allegations while the DCA is the only major mosque we have,” he added.

“The DCA is the center of a Muslim community in the U.S. that represents the most beautiful, most peaceful and the purest side of Islam. We strongly reject these baseless claims”.

*Servet Gunerigok contributed to this report

—AA

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