The extradition of an elderly cleric living in Pennsylvania who Turkish officials allege orchestrated last month’s failed coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not drawn serious consideration by U.S. officials, a federal law enforcement official said Friday.
Although Turkish authorities have requested the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, 75, the official said there is no evidence to indicate that Gulen directed the attempted overthrow.
The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, also said there were additional concerns about returning Gulen to an unsettled political environment in the aftermath of the failed coup.
The attempted coup on July 15 left hundreds dead and rocked a key NATO ally.
The cleric denied involvement in the violence when he met with reporters on July 18 at his compound in the Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania. Gulen attorney Reid Weingarten told reporters Friday he was “not surprised” by reports that the U.S. was not likely to approve extradition. “We take great comfort from the (report),” he said.
Turkish leaders have not only demanded the cleric's extradition, filing papers with the U.S. State Department, but have suggested the failure to do so would be a serious breach in the U.S.-Turkish relationship.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that any country "standing by this person will not be a friend of Turkey." The Turkish state-run news agency reported that courts issued an arrest warrant for Gulen Wednesday.
Lawyers for Gulen, speaking at a press conference in Washington, D.C., said they fear potential attacks on his life. They said they expected Gulen to stay in his Pennsylvania compound.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry plans to arrive in Turkey later this month, Turkey’s foreign minister said Friday. Mevlut Cavusoglu said Kerry was scheduled to reach Turkey on Aug. 24, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. Cavusoglu also said it is possible that Vice President Joe Biden will make a separate visit.
A severe crackdown followed the attempted coup with people in the Turkish military, academia and judiciary rounded up. Nearly 70,000 people have been suspended from their jobs. Some 18,000 have been arrested or detained and there have even been calls for use of the death penalty as punishment.
The Turkish government prompted President Obama to urge Erdogan to be certain that individual rights be protected in efforts to uncover those responsible for the attempted coup.
A refusal to extradite could presage one of the lowest points in a generation in U.S.-Turkey relations, said Steven Cook, an expert on Turkish politics with the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank in Washington D.C.
He said anti-American rhetoric emanating from Turkish leaders and media can "take on a life of its own. So what my concern is is that although Erdogan is kind of the master of the political universe there, there will be a tremendous amount of political pressure to punish the United States in some way."
The obvious target would be limiting U.S. military operations out of Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. The country currently allows U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State targets to be flown out of Incirlik. That permission, negotiated just last year, could be revoked, hindering operations against the terrorist group, Cook said.
"What the guys in the military explain to me is you don't have to refuel (for missions out of Incirlik), pilots can loiter in the area, they can conduct what they call dynamic airstrikes, that's when something comes to their attention," Cook said. "And it's much, much harder when you're flying all that way from other places."
No final decision has been made on the extradition.
Published on USA Today, 5 August 2016, Friday