Fifteen Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) terrorists, whose extradition was demanded by Turkey from the Republic of North Macedonia, are believed to have fled the country, benefiting from the long and complex bureaucratic procedures in the country.
Defense Minister Hulusi Akar's official visit to North Macedonia in early April triggered discussion about the extradition of FETÖ members to Turkey. During the press conference that Akar organized with his counterpart Radmila Sekerinska, Akar said that Turkey was aware of the presence of some FETÖ members in North Macedonia and the two countries were cooperating on the issue.
Since taking concrete steps against terrorism would be beneficial for both countries, Akar said that FETÖ terrorists sabotage the friendship between the two countries. Noting that Turkey shared some names with Macedonian authorities, Akar reiterated his trust and belief in North Macedonia to take the necessary steps.
The issue of extradition of FETÖ members in North Macedonia to Turkey came to the agenda again following Akar's statements. While media in North Macedonia has focused on the issue, state authorities declared that extradition procedures were in progress.
Regarding the issue, North Macedonia Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski previously said that the legal process concerning 15 FETÖ members whose extradition had been demanded by Turkey was being conducted by the Ministry of Justice.
FETÖ and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gülen orchestrated the defeated coup of July 15, 2016 in Turkey, which left 251 people killed and nearly 2,200 injured. FETÖ was also behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and the judiciary.
Commenting on extradition debates, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev also assured that they would respect national and international regulations. Declaring their support for Turkey's battle against FETÖ, Zaev had described FETÖ as a terrorist organization before. Responding to questions posed by an Anadolu Agency (AA) reporter in a written statement, the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of North Macedonia said that the ministry has been working on extradition demands from Turkey in 2018 and 2019.
"The Interior Ministry has applied to the court to take further steps. There are currently 15 cases of extradition claims for terrorism. All procedures are in progress and the relevant authorities are in communication," said the statement.
The extradition process was also asked of the Skopje Courthouse. The statement made by the court indicated that they had not received any list containing 15 names whose extradition was demanded.
Since different extradition demands about various people have been coming in daily, court officials indicated that the extradition of FETÖ members are taken as independent individual cases, not collective lists.
Court officials also said that the extradition demands only included names, not extradition reasons and crimes committed.
With presidential elections on Sunday in North Macedonia, presidential candidate Stevo Pendarovski became yet another person who was asked about the extradition of the FETÖ members.
On a television program, Pendarovski replied to the question that although Turkey's demand is legitimate, North Macedonia has its own laws and the steps taken must be in accordance with the law.
Pendarovski added that Turkey is a strong supporter of Macedonia's possible membership in NATO and said: "I expect our friendship will remain as it is; however, this country has its own laws."
FETÖ has a considerable presence abroad, particularly in the U.S., including private schools that serve as a revenue stream for the terror group. The U.S. is one of the Western countries where FETÖ remains active. It is home to a large community of Gülenists, including group leader Fetullah Gülen. Turkey established the Maarif Foundation in 2016 to take over the administration of overseas schools linked to FETÖ. It also establishes schools and education centers abroad.
FETÖ operates 140 charter schools in 26 U.S. states, some of which have changed names over time, which were opened in the late 1990s and at 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. For instance, 46 schools are named "Harmony" in Texas, 30 schools named "Concept" in and around Ohio, while some others are called "Magnolia."
Gülen, who arrived in the U.S. 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 of evidence implicating Gülen and FETÖ in the coup attempt. The issue has been raised in bilateral meetings between Turkish and American officials in phone calls, letters and other exchanges as well.