Days after a failed coup, Turkey has asked the U.S. to extradite a cleric it accuses of inciting the takeover attempt. The request comes as the Turkish government has extended a crackdown to the Education Ministry, dismissing more than 15,000 people, state media report.
The White House confirmed receiving electronic materials Tuesday for the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, who has resided in Pennsylvania since the 1990s, according to the Associated Press.
NPR's Leila Fadel tells our Newscast unit that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quick to blame the influential cleric. Gulen has denied the charge and in turn suggested Erdogan planned the failed takeover, says Leila:
"It's a rampant conspiracy theory among Erdogan opponents that he staged the failed takeover as a pretext for a major crackdown. Since the bloody attempt on Friday that left some 230 people dead, more than 7,500 people have been detained. Erdogan told CNN the accusation that he could have staged the coup is ridiculous and 'beyond possible.' "
Gulen released a statement about the extradition request that said Erdogan "will go to any length necessary to solidify his power and persecute his critics. It is ridiculous, irresponsible and false to suggest I had anything to do with the horrific failed coup. I urge the US government to reject any effort to abuse the extradition process to carry out political vendettas."
As reported on our Parallels blog, the two were once allies, before a bitter falling out:
"Both were considered moderate Islamists. Gulen encouraged his many followers to support Erdogan, who in turn helped raise the profile of Gulen, who runs a vast network of Islamic schools worldwide. ...
"But they had a falling out in 2013 over a corruption investigation that targeted Erdogan and some of his closest allies. Erdogan apparently believed Gulen's allies in the judiciary were responsible for the inquiry, and responded by dismissing many in the judicial system considered close to Gulen, a powerful political force in his own right."
The Education Ministry is one of the latest targets of a crackdown that has extended throughout the Turkish government. Firings have occurred in the prime minister's office and Religious Affairs Ministry, says the Anadolu agency. Moreover, at least 82 generals and admirals — including the accused ringleader, Gen. Akin Ostuk — are among the thousands detained, and a call went out Tuesday for nearly 1,600 university deans to resign, the Turkish agency further reports.
The crackdown has drawn alarm from the international community, particularly, as Leila reports, among the country's allies:
"U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein called on Turkey to uphold rule of law and provide fair trials. He also asked that international observers be allowed to visit Turkey's detention centers."
The Associated Press reports relations between Greece and Turkey could possibly grow tense over eight soldiers who fled to Greece after the failed coup.