Turkish Citizen Who Works for U.S. Consulate Arrested in Istanbul

The man is allegedly linked to the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Fulen; the U.S. Embassy says the allegations are 'wholly without merit'

Supporters of President Erdogan wave Turkish flags during a trial for soldiers accused of attempting to assassinate the president, in Mugla, Turkey, October 4, 2017.

Turkish authorities have arrested a U.S. Consulate employee in Istanbul over his alleged links to a movement led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, Turkey's state-run news agency reported. The U.S. Embassy said Thursday it believes the allegations against the staff member are "wholly without merit."

Anadolu Agency said the man, a Turkish citizen identified by the initials M.T., was ordered arrested by a court in Istanbul late Wednesday on charges of espionage and attempts to "destroy" the constitutional order and Turkey's government.

The man is accused of ties to a former prosecutor and four former police chiefs who are being prosecuted for leading a corruption probe in 2013, which the government says was orchestrated by Gulen's movement in a bid to topple it.

Gulen is also accused of masterminding last year's failed coup. Gulen denies the accusations.

About 50,000 people have been arrested and more than 110,000 have been sacked from government jobs as part of a crackdown on the movement since the coup attempt. On Thursday, the authorities issued 133 arrest warrants for alleged Gulenists. The government says all those who had the free-to-download application ByLock installed on their phones are members of the organization.

Among those detained were approximately 38 teachers and a number of former employees of ministries and local municipalities. Ankara blames Gulen, a former ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for orchestrating the attempted coup last year. The preacher, who resides in the U.S., denies the charges. More than 50,000 people are in jail accused of being Gulenists.

The U.S. Embassy said it was "deeply disturbed" by the arrest of the Istanbul Consulate's staff member as well as by what it said were "leaks from Turkish government sources seemingly aimed at trying the employee in the media rather than a court of law."

A Turkish special police officer stands guard outside the perimeter fence of the U.S. embassy in Ankara, Turkey, on December 20, 2016.

"Baseless, anonymous allegations against our employee undermine and devalue (the) longstanding partnership" between Turkey and the United States, the embassy said in a statement.