US finally makes a move to expose the dark side of Gülen-led group

DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL-ANKARA
Published
US finally makes a move to expose the dark side of Gülen-led group

A thorough investigation was launched recently by FBI into the Gülen-led group FETÖ for its breach of U.S. laws, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said, citing shady business at charter schools, bank fraud and tax evasion that the group has been involved in for years

The United States is gradually realizing the "dark side" of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), thanks to an investigation that was launched following Turkey's years-long efforts to unmask the terrorist group, Ankara announced on Saturday. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently began to investigate FETÖ breaches of U.S. laws. "Although it is not very long since the investigation started, the agency has begun to see how this organization broke laws, defrauded American banks and evaded tax," said the minister, adding that the dark side of the terrorist group finally started to be seen by U.S. authorities thanks to the investigation.

"They started to realize who [FETÖ] uses and how through professional tactics. This is information that the Americans gave to us. We have been also sharing the necessary information with them on the matter," Çavuşoğlu stated. Previously, in June, Çavuşoğlu announced that the FBI launched investigations against FETÖ in 20 U.S. states. In a televised interview, Çavuşoğlu said his ministry was informed by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the investigations though he did not elaborate on the subject.

The FBI has already conducted an investigation into charter schools linked to the terrorist group although it was quiet about the progress of those investigations that focused on shady business practices of those schools. It also cooperated with Turkish authorities in an investigation into alleged money laundering schemes of the terrorist group, an earlier report by the Sabah newspaper claimed.

In this context, the biggest step came when the head of one of the most important FETÖ institutions in the U.S., known as the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians, Kemaş Ökzsüz, was captured in Armenia on Aug. 30. Öksüz was wanted by the FBI for fooling the U.S. Congress's Ethics Committee via fake documents.

The U.S. is one of the Western countries where FETÖ, accused of carrying out the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey through its infiltrators in the military, remains active. It is home to a large community of Gülenists, including group leader Fetullah Gülen.

FETÖ operates 140 charter schools in 26 states in the U.S. The schools in the U.S., some of which have changed names over time, were opened in the late 1990s and in the beginning of the 2000s. Around 60,000 students attend the schools annually. These FETÖ schools are usually gathered under umbrella organizations and managed through foundations. As an example, 46 schools are named "Harmony" in Texas, 30 schools named "Concept" in and around Ohio; some others are called "Magnolia."

Çavuşoğlu also reiterated that Washington's reluctance to extradite Gülen remains a source of the rift between the two NATO allies, demanding concrete steps in the case.

Çavuşoğlu underlined that the tension between Ankara and Washington is not just caused by the pastor Andrew Brunson case, adding that the U.S. refusal to extradite Gülen, the most wanted criminal in Turkey, and its support to the PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, are vital issues waiting to be resolved in order to fix bilateral relations.

"Everyone has tried to associate the case [tensions] with pastor Brunson, but there are two issues that have been straining relations. One is U.S. support for the YPG/PKK in Syria. The second is the failure to fulfill our requests concerning FETÖ and its leader Gülen, who is responsible for the July 15 coup attempt," he said during a meeting with the Turkish community at Ankara's New York consulate.

Some U.S. media outlets previously reported that Ankara sought Gülen's extradition in exchange for Brunson's release, a claim rejected by administrations of the two countries. Pastor Brunson, an evangelical Presbyterian clergyman who lived in Turkey for about two decades, was found guilty of espionage-related crimes by a court last month, but was released for time served under house arrest.

Earlier on Thursday, NBC News reported that the Trump administration had asked several federal agencies to find legal means to extradite the leader of FETÖ to Turkey. However, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday that the extradition of Gülen to Turkey was not on his agenda.

"No, it's not under consideration," Trump told reporters on Saturday.

Gülen, who arrived in the United States in 1999, currently lives in a luxurious retreat in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, in self-imposed exile. He never leaves the well-guarded compound but often gives interviews to foreign media. Ankara formally requested Gülen's extradition on July 19, 2016, and has been pressing the U.S. ever since, 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 U.S. after reports emerged that the terrorist leader was planning to flee to another country. While Ankara says evidence shows that Gülen's network formed a quasi-state within the Turkish government and attempted to topple it with the ultimate intent of taking over the state through the coup, the U.S. is reluctant to extradite him, claiming that there is insufficient evidence to associate him with the July 15, 2016 coup attempt; this remains a deep rift in relations between the two countries.

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 former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions; however, no formal steps have been taken on the issue so far.

Currently, the Turkish government has increased its efforts to convince the Trump administration to take concrete steps on the issue.

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