A cinematic arrest at the Turkish coastal town of Marmaris, on board a Greek-flagged vessel, initially stirred heightened concern in Athens, which saw the development as possibly yet another Turkish provocation to further escalate Greek-Turkish tensions.
The news item about “an imam who wanted to escape to Greece” was first reported by the Turkish state-run wire service Anadolu, which provided the necessary photos and video.
Greek authorities were concerned about the fact that the yacht was Greek-flagged and that the imam reportedly was planning to head toward Greece.
Athens does not wish in any way to be linked to the Gulenist movement, or to be seen as a haven or transit point for Gulenists to reach other European countries, as Turkish officials have claimed.
The arrest comes just as the Greek government is trying to tone down tensions with Ankara, the inflammatory rhetoric of Defence Minister Panos Kammenos notwithstanding.
The 48-year-old imam, Murat Elmas, is accused of being a member of Islamist cleric Fethullah Gulen’s religious movement, branded a terrorist organisation and named FETO in Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Gulen is behind the 2016 coup against him.
Authorities claim that the Gulenist movement appointed him as imam in the broader region of Samsun, on the northern coast of Turkey, in 2015.
Anadolu reported that when Elmas was arrested he was carrying a forged ID and three cell phones, equipped with the common cryptographic Bylock message system. Five more passengers on the vessel, who also were allegedly carrying false IDs, were arrested.
Thousands of people have been arrested in Turkey for possessing the Bylock app, as it was allegedly used by “Gulenist coup plotters” in 2016.
There are conflicting reports about what happened next, as some claimed that Elmas was charged and others that he was set free.
Greek authorities investigated details about the vessel and found that it is Greek-owned and that two Turkish nationals rented it on 4 April, 2018, from a boat rental service on the island of Rhodes.