ANKARA - Turkish police detained a controversial Islamic televangelist on Wednesday and were seeking hundreds of people linked to him for alleged crimes including forming a criminal gang, fraud, blackmail and sexual abuse.
Istanbul police said warrants were issued against Adnan Oktar and 234 of his followers and that financial crime units were carrying out operations in Istanbul and four other cities to detain them.
Oktar was detained in his villa in Istanbul's upmarket Cengelkoy district, state-run Anadolu agency reported. Video footage showed Oktar and other suspects being escorted to a hospital for medical checks before being questioned by police.
The news agency said 166 of the suspects had been detained so far in raids on 120 addresses in four provinces. Dozens of weapons and ammunition, a bullet proof vest and an armored vehicle were seized during the search.
Police said accusations against Oktar and his group include forming a gang with criminal intent, sexual abuse of minors, sexual assault, kidnapping, blackmail, fraud, money laundering and exploitation of religious sentiments.
A court ordered that the property of all suspects be seized and government trustees were appointed to companies, foundations and associations, according to Anadolu.
In February, Turkey's media watchdog imposed fines on Oktar's TV channel and suspended broadcasts of shows where the televangelist holds Islamic theological discussions surrounded by glamorous women known as "kittens." The women are often provocatively dressed, hair bleached blond with plastic surgery. More than 100 of those to be detained are women.
Oktar - also known by his pen name Harun Yahya - has authored numerous books promoting creationism against Darwin's theory of evolution as well as conspiracy theories.
Asked why he was being held, Oktar told journalists as he entered the hospital: "It's a British plot." He did not explain his comment.
People gathered outside the hospital and were heard booing and mocking him.
Elvan Kocak, a Turk living in Austria, filed a lawsuit against Oktar earlier this year, accusing him of kidnapping his two daughters, after he saw them on one of the televangelist's broadcasts. After hearing the news of the operation, Kocak was quoted on private news agency DHA as saying "I am very excited, very happy."
Ceylan Ozgul, a woman who appeared on Oktar's shows, told Anadolu she escaped the network in 2017 after spending a decade inside. She said, "Girls who are seven, 10, 14, 17-years-old are abused here and there are girls who are repeatedly raped." She warned parents on social media to watch out for their children.