The Turkish government has confirmed to Foreign Policy that its extradition request for Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen to the United States did not contain any evidence linking Gulen to the failed coup attempt on July 15.
Turkish Embassy spokesman Naci Aydan Karamanoğlu claimed the evidence against Gulen exists and “will be submitted in due time,” but that the government has not had time to amass it so soon following the failed coup attempt.
The Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the cleric, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, orchestrated the coup attempt using supporters in the military. Gulen has denied all such charges, writing in the New York Times that it would be “irresponsible and wrong” to forcibly return him to Turkey.
Turkey has sent multiple requests to the United States to extradite Gulen. The latest occurred following the failed coup attempt this summer, with Erdogan and his government publicly claiming that ample evidence existed to tie him to the event. “The evidence is crystal clear. We know the terrorist cult responsible for the vicious attacks against us and the Turkish people. We simply cannot understand why the U.S. cannot just hand over this individual,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım told the Wall Street Journal in early August.
Erdogan has personally stated there is “no excuse” for the U.S. not to extradite Gulen, describing the coup attempt as the latest proof of subversive political activity.
Ankara refers to Gulen’s Islamic movement, which he calls “Hismet,” as the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization (FETO) and has asserted throughout the years that it is a “cult.” Gulen runs a series of Islamic charter schools around the United States, which have been raided by the FBI following accusations of misappropriation of funding.
The admission to Foreign Policy that the U.S. has no evidence linking Gulen to the coup follows the publication of an editorial in the Turkish newspaper Milliyet by Vice President Joe Biden, currently in Ankara. Biden writes that the United States does not have “any evidence from Turkey relating to the attempted coup.” Biden added that demands to immediately extradite Gulen were “damaging” because “under America’s system of government, where the executive and judicial branches have separate and independent roles, that’s simply not possible. In fact, any attempt to do so would be illegal.”
Milliyet was one entity controlled by the Dogan Media Group, which owns Hurriyet, a publication that regularly publishes secularist editorials. The media group was forced to sell Milliyet, among other entities, in September 2015.
Erdogan’s government has arrested, detained, or fired over 100,000 people in the wake of the coup — all, the government claims, with ties to Gulen. It has upended much of its critical military structure and shut down hundreds of media outlets, some resurfacing as pro-Erdogan mouthpieces while others have been shut down entirely. The media crackdown follows years of similar individual operations, most prominently the takeover of the newspaper Zaman, once an opposition newspaper which resurfaced as a Turkish-language-only daily praising the work of the Erdogan government.