Clinging to Obama-era inaction on the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), the U.S. administration drags on the extradition process for the terrorist group's leader wanted by Turkey.
Ankara, meanwhile, hopes Washington will change its mind with more evidence clearly linking Fetullah Gülen to the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. FETÖ's infiltrators in the military, from generals to low-ranking officers, were behind the attempt that killed 250 people, and Turkey has already sent a large cache of evidence to U.S. officials implicating FETÖ in the attempt.
The new evidence spoken about by Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül on Friday was not disclosed, but it is likely a critical phone call between a coup suspect and one of Gülen's aides in Pennsylvania in the United States on the night of the coup attempt that was leaked to the media earlier.
Gül said it was "important evidence obtained from the phone of a FETÖ member on the July 15 night" and "corroborated all of Turkey's arguments and data" that the terrorist group has direct links to the coup attempt. Multiple investigations revealing the ties of putschists with FETÖ and confessions by the group's members about their roles in the attempt have largely been ignored by the United States so far.
U.S. officials simply indicated they were reviewing the materials sent by Turkey. Gül said he would call his American counterpart Jeff Sessions when Daily Sabah went to print on Friday.
"We expect [The United States] to take a step," he said.
On Wednesday, Turkish media outlets reported that investigators found connections between Hakan Çiçek and Abdullah Bayram. Çiçek, who was among civilians captured in a military base at the heart of the coup attempt, is a point man for FETÖ according to prosecutors. Bayram is a senior FETÖ member close to Gülen and allegedly arranges his meetings in Gülen's Pennsylvania compound with visitors abroad. Çiçek spent the night of July 15, 2016 at the Akıncı air base where putschists dispatched warplanes to strike the presidential complex and other strategic locations. He was accompanied by Adil Öksüz, Harun Biniş and Kemal Batmaz, three other point men for FETÖ. Öksüz is alleged to be the mastermind of the coup attempt and remains at large. Eyewitnesses say he had approval from Gülen when he and putschist generals gathered at an Ankara villa days before the coup attempt to plan the coup. Öksüz was also a frequent visitor to Gülen's U.S. compound.
Çiçek had a three-minute phone call with Abdullah Bayram hours before he was captured in Akıncı and then sent messages reading "Brother, get him to the phone immediately" in reference to Gülen. He then sent another text reading: "It is a matter of life and death." When his texts were not responded to for a while, Çiçek told Bayram to "stop prayers" thinking he was not responding as Bayram was likely praying. Bayram later responded to the text, but it was not clear what he said to Çiçek.
The justice minister said Turkey sent a delegation to the United States last month to discuss FETÖ and the extradition of Gülen and a U.S. delegation visited Ankara last week for talks on the matter. "They discussed with Justice Ministry officials on the legal process regarding FETÖ and the status of arrested American citizens here," Gül said.
The minister added that they were monitoring the extradition process, and they regularly updated information regarding FETÖ and presented it to the United States. Gül added they were also "monitoring" investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) targeting charter schools in the United States run by Gülenists.
The United States' apparent reluctance to extradite Gülen, one of the most wanted people in Turkey, remains a deep rift in relations between the two countries. Ankara had formally requested Gülen be extradited on July 19, 2016. Since then however, Turkish officials believe there was insufficient progress on the matter. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy told reporters last Thursday that the United States should not "keep stalling" Turkey.
Gülen, who arrived in the United States in 1999, currently resides in a luxurious retreat in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. He never leaves the well-guarded compound but often gives interviews to foreign media. He was already facing criminal investigations related to his group when the coup attempt took place in 2016. Turkey pressed the U.S. for his extradition after the coup attempt, sending hundreds of folders full of evidence implicating Gülen and FETÖ in the coup attempt. The issue was raised in bilateral meetings between Turkish and American officials, in phone calls, letters and other exchanges. Turkey also sought a preventive arrest, to keep Gülen in the United States after reports emerged that the terrorist leader was planning to flee to another country.
Despite Ankara's determined efforts, the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama took no action against the U.S.-based terrorist leader. Under normal circumstances, Gülen should have already been arrested since Turkish authorities issued an official request for his extradition under the 1979 treaty between the U.S. and Turkey. Former Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ went to the U.S. several times to expedite the legal process and met with U.S. authorities, including U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions; however, no formal steps have been taken on the issue so far.
Turkey has already secured the extradition of several key FETÖ figures from other countries. Six Gülenist executives were extradited from Kosovo in March.