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Fethullah Gulen ‘very confident’ extradition from US will fail

As Ankara formally requests Muslim cleric's extradition from US, his aide says Gulen was not involved in attempted coup in Turkey last month
Erdogan has accused Gulen of being behind the attempted 15 July coup (AFP)

TORONTO, Canada – Fethullah Gulen is "very confident" that Turkey's efforts to have him extradited from the United States will be unsuccessful, according to an aide close to the Muslim cleric.

Alp Aslandogan, president of the New York-based Alliance for Shared Values (AFSV), said Gulen believes the Turkish authorities will not be able to produce concrete evidence to link him to the attempted coup in Turkey last month.

“He is very confident that the Turkish side won’t be able to produce the evidence because that link [to the coup] is false... So if something is not true, how can they prove it?” Aslandogan told Middle East Eye in a telephone interview.

The AFSV is an umbrella group that represents organisations in the US affiliated with Gulen. It also coordinates media requests about the Gulenist movement, also known as Hizmet, and Gulen himself.

“The Turkish government’s attempt to link [Gulen] with specific acts … are bound to fail because they don’t exist,” Aslandogan said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Gulen, a Muslim cleric who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, of being behind the attempted 15 July coup.

At least 265 people were killed and more than 1,400 others were injured in the violent putsch, according to Turkey’s foreign ministry, and the Turkish parliament building was bombed.

Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer for the Turkish government, told The Associated Press last month that "there are indications of [Gulen’s] direct involvement" in the coup attempt.

But Gulen wholly denies the government’s accusations, Aslandogan said.

“[Gulen] categorically denies any involvement and he condemned the coup and he said that if anybody who appears to be a [Gulenist] sympathiser was involved, that is a betrayal of his values,” he said.

Political observers and academics that have studied the Hizmet movement say the 77-year-old cleric operates an extensive network that includes a covert side seeking to assert control of Turkish state institutions.

Some have said that Gulenist involvement in the coup is a reasonable assumption because it came just as Erdogan planned to remove Gulen sympathisers from the military - and the army represented “the last remaining Gulenist stronghold in Turkey”.

“The human brain has a tendency to accept a coherent story, but not every coherent story is actually true,” Aslandogan said when asked to comment on this theory about the timing of the coup and Gulenist involvement.

“It is impossible to know for sure who those [military] officers were, whether they were indeed Gulen sympathisers,” he said.

US confirms extradition request

After weeks of speculation and reports that Turkey had sent a trove of extradition documents to the US, the US State Department confirmed on 23 August that Turkey has formally requested Gulen’s extradition.

“We can confirm now that Turkey has requested the extradition of Gulen,” department spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters.

But the request is not related to the attempted coup on 15 July, Toner said. He did not specify what charge the extradition is related to specifically.

A delegation from the US State and Justice departments was in Ankara last week to meet with Turkish officials to discuss the extradition request for Gulen. A source in Turkey’s Justice Ministry told government news agency Anadolu that those talks were “positive”.

Under the US-Turkey extradition treaty, an individual sought for extradition may only be tried for the charge upon which the extradition request was granted.

The treaty also stipulates that the extradition offence must be considered a crime in both Turkey and the US and be punishable by at least one year in prison.

Experts have said Turkey faces a difficult legal battle to have Gulen extradited, thanks in part to a clause in the 1979 treaty that prohibits extradition on the grounds that the offence is of “a political character” or “on account of his political opinions”.

Asked whether individuals suspected of being involved in the attempted coup must face trial and be punished if found guilty by a court of law, Aslandogan replied, “absolutely”.

But he said he does not believe Gulen would get a fair trial in Turkey.

“Erdogan’s enmity is very clear… So we are talking about a very authoritarian leader who has made his top priority to go after this man,” Aslandogan said.

“It’s very clear now, if Mr Gulen were to be returned [to Turkey], there is no chance that he will get a fair trial.”

The United Nations has urged Turkey to uphold international human rights standards amidst a widespread wave of arrests and dismissals across the country, including in the judiciary, media, police, military and education fields.

Meanwhile, Turkey has criticised its US ally for not immediately extraditing Gulen, whom the government in Ankara accuses of leading a terrorist group.