Federal authorities raided a Brooklyn cafe linked to the Pennsylvania imam blamed by Turkey for plotting July’s failed coup attempt in that country.
The feds seized computers from Masal Cafe in Sheepshead Bay which operates in a portion of the old Lundy’s Restaurant in October, said a source familiar with the Brooklyn Turkish community and accounts in the Turkish press.
Cafe owner Selahattin Karakus told the Daily Sabah, an English-language newspaper in Turkey, that agents were at his Sheepshead Bay home and the cafe.
“They told me not to talk about this with anyone,” he is quoted as saying.
Karakus, 39, is a supporter of Fethullah Gulen, an imam who fled Turkey in 1999 and lives in self-imposed exile in the Poconos. He heads a moderate religious movement that operates schools and cultural centers around the world, including one in Sheepshead Bay.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed Gulen for orchestrating the coup attempt and has demanded that the US extradite him to Turkey.
The Turkish government considers Gulen’s movement a terrorist organization.
Gulen has denied involvement in the uprising, which killed more than 250 people.
The coup began the night of July 15 as military factions tried to seize control of Istanbul and Ankara, bombing the parliament building and attacking the presidential palace. Erdogan was away on vacation and borrowed a cellphone to address his countrymen, pleading with them to resist the insurrection. The revolt was put down by the next morning.
Since the uprising, Erdogan has expanded a crackdown on the Gulenist movement, with more than 30,000 people arrested or detained and media outlets shuttered.
Shortly after the coup attempt, the Obama administration expressed its support for the Turkish democracy and said it would consider any evidence Erdogan presented to extradite Gulen.
Karakus is considered close enough to Gulen that the reclusive cleric is said to have suggested the name for his restaurant, which has become a meeting place for Gulen supporters, according to press reports. The word “masal” in Turkish means a tale or story.
He is among a number of Gulen adherents who have contributed to political campaigns across the country, according to a 2014 BuzzFeed article. Karakus denied at the time there was an orchestrated attempt at political influence.
He has donated $11,300 to congressional campaigns since 2012 including those of Democratic Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Yvette Clarke in Brooklyn and Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas. Texas is home to the greatest number of Gulen-backed charter schools.
Karakus has also given $2,500 to Brooklyn Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, a Democrat from Sheepshead Bay. Cymbrowitz’s campaign has spent $130 at the Masal Cafe, records show.
“All I know about a federal raid is what I read in the newspaper. Mr. Karakus has a successful restaurant and is an active member of the Sheepshead Bay merchants’ association,” Cymbrowitz said.
The entity that operates the eatery, Boz Export and Import Inc., filed for bankruptcy protection in September, just days before the FBI raid. The company owes $450,803 in back rent, according to its bankruptcy filing.