A senior State Department official said Monday that Turkey's contention that a Pennsylvania-based Fetullah Gülen and his followers were involved in the failed coup attempt may have merit.
Gülen and his Gülenist terror group (FETÖ) is held responsible for orchestrating the attempted military coup in July, which left more than 270 people dead.Turkey is asking for his extradition and has requested the U.S. to temporarily detain Gülen, shortly after Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım announced that Turkey has submitted four dossiers asking for his extradition.
Turkey and the U.S. signed the Extradition and Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters between the United States and the Republic of Turkey Treaty, in 1979. While Turkey has extradited many suspects to the U.S. under the scope of the treaty, the U.S. may refuse the extradition of Gülen if conditions outlined in the document are not present. Some of the conditions for refusal include crimes committed against the military and political crimes, lapse of time, if the person being requested for extradition has been tried and charged in the U.S., if the alleged crime has been granted amnesty in Turkey or the U.S., if the person is still being tried in the country seeking extradition and the judiciary has made a decision about him/her, and if the person being requested for extradition has been tried and acquitted or imprisoned in a third country.
The official told reporters there are "reasonable grounds" to take the Turkish government's accusations against Gülen seriously. The official held a briefing for reporters but insisted on anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Gülen has been living in Pennsylvania, United States in self-imposed exile for more than 15 years.
The State Department official said that charity and educational organizations run by Gülen have suspicious structure and financing and look "a lot like the ways in which organized crime sets itself up of folks who are trying to hide money for money laundering" rather than a "benign religious movement."
The briefing comes several days after Turkey's justice minister met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch to press the extradition request. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ compared Gülen to Osama Bin Laden and warned that Washington's failure to hand Gülen over could seriously hurt bilateral ties. Washington views Turkey, a NATO member, as an important ally in the region in fighting terrorism.
The State Department official said the United States government is examining Turkey's evidence against Gülen, but added that the evidence so far concerns alleged crimes committed by Gülen prior to the coup.
Bozdağ said last week that some of the coup plotters have confessed to taking orders from Gülen. He also said that Gülen was receiving secret recordings of conversations of a top Turkish official provided to him by one of his followers.
Since the failed coup, Turkish authorities have arrested close to 37,000 people and more than 100,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from government jobs after the coup.
On July 15, a small military junta linked to the Gülenist Terror Organization (FETÖ) attempted to topple the democratically elected government in Turkey and bring martial law. The attempt was prevented by military troops loyal to the government, along with police units and millions of Turkish citizens in favor of democracy. 208 people, consisting of mostly civilians, have been killed by pro-coup soldiers, while over 1,400 people were injured. Turkey's opposition parties have united against the coup attempt, condemning it in the harshest terms and underscoring their determination to preserve democracy and rule of law in Turkey.
The activities and operations of the Gülen Movement in the U.S. and Turkey have been scrutinized by a number of American media outlets that question the movement's motives, opacity and why the U.S. government is providing refuge to Gülen, who is currently facing numerous charges in his native Turkey, including treason and an extradition request.