Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday evening called on the United States to extradite a Muslim cleric he accuses of being behind Turkey’s failed coup attempt.
In a televised speech, Erdogan said as Turkey’s strategic partner Washington should meet the demand for the extradition of Pennsylvania-based Fethullah Gulen.
Erdogan said he had repeatedly told US President Barack Obama that Gulen, who he called a “head of terror,” threatened Turkey’s security and should be extradited.
“Mr. President, I told you myself, either deport or hand over to us this person who lives in 400 acres of land in Pennsylvania,” he said, carefully not referring to Gulen by name.
“I told you that he was engaged in coup plots but I was not listened to. Now again today after the coup I say it again. Deliver this man who lives in Pennsylvania to Turkey,” said Erdogan.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that the United States will assist Turkey in the investigation of the failed coup and invited Ankara to share any evidence it has against Gulen.
“We fully anticipate that there will be questions raised about Mr. Gulen,” he said in Luxembourg.
Erdogan said Turkey had never turned back any extradition request for “terrorists” by the United States.
He called the rebels “a tumor within the military,” according to Turkey’s Anadolu news agency. “And now this tumor is being removed.”
Responding to calls from listeners to instate the death penalty for plotters, Erdogan said the matter would be “debated in parliament.”
A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations, said Turkey “has been preparing a formal application with detailed information about Gulen’s involvement in illegal activities. After last night we have one more thing to add to an already extensive list.”
Gulen rejected Turkish claims, telling the Guardian that “there is a possibility that it could be a staged coup and it could be meant for further accusations [against the Gulenists].”
He added: “I don’t believe that the world believes the accusations made by President Erdogan.”
Earlier Gulen said he condemned “in the strongest terms, the attempted military coup in Turkey” and sharply rejected any responsibility for the attempted coup.
“Government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force,” he said. “I pray to God for Turkey, for Turkish citizens, and for all those currently in Turkey that this situation is resolved peacefully and quickly.”
Meanwhile a Turkish official said Akin Ozturk, a former air force commander, was one of the “masterminds of the coup.” He said initial evidence suggested ties between the failed coup’s alleged masterminds, including Ozturk and the Gulenist Movement.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules. The official said Erdal Teczan, a Constitutional Court judge, had been detained over his alleged participation in the coup plot.
Over 2,500 other judges across the country have been dismissed. Ten members of Turkey’s highest administrative court were detained and arrest warrants were issued for 48 administrative court members and 140 members of Turkey’s appeals court.
Among those detained for questioning were the commander of Turkey’s second army, Gen. Adem Huduti, and a few other top aides in the eastern city of Malatya, Anadolu said.
Ozturk, who led he air force between 2013 and 2015 before retiring from the army last year, was also the nation’s military attaché to Israel in the 1990s; he served in the Jewish state between 1996-1998.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and senior EU officials on Saturday condemned “in the strongest terms” the failed coup in Turkey, but called on Erdogan to deal with the plotters lawfully.
The treatment “of those responsible for the tragic events of last night can and should only be handled according to the rule of law,” she said after the coup bid, which left more than 250 people dead.
Erdogan, who flew back from the holiday resort of Marmaris to a triumphant welcome from supporters at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, denounced the coup attempt as “treachery.”
“They will pay a heavy price for this act of treason,” Erdogan said of the putschists. “We will not leave our country to occupiers.”
The government said that almost 3,000 soldiers had been arrested in a major purge of the armed forces.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the plotters were “cowards” who “would get what they deserve.”
Senior European figures echoed Merkel’s message, with EU parliament president Martin Schulz stressing that the Turkish government “must not use this occasion to breach democratic rule, restrict freedom of speech and fundamental rights.”
“One-man rule and arbitrary decisions are not acceptable in a country which is not only a strategic ally but also an accession candidate to the European Union,” he said.
Earlier, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, in a joint statement with the bloc’s enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn, condemned the coup attempt and voiced support for Turkey’s “democratic institutions”.
The statement urged restraint from the police and security forces in their response to the coup plotters, “to prevent further casualties.”
Forces loyal to Turkey’s president quashed the coup attempt in a night of explosions, air battles and gunfire that left some 250 people dead and over 1,400 wounded Saturday.
The chaos Friday night and Saturday came amid a period of political turmoil in Turkey — a NATO member and key Western ally in the fight against the Islamic State group — that critics blame on Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule. Staying in power by switching from being prime minister to president, Erdogan has shaken up the government, cracked down on dissidents, restricted the news media and renewed fighting with Kurdish rebels.
The government has also come under pressure from hosting millions of refugees who have fled violence in neighboring Syria and Iraq, and from a series of bloody attacks blamed on Islamic State extremists and Kurdish rebels.
Erdogan was on a seaside vacation when tanks rolled into the streets of Ankara and Istanbul, blocking key bridges. From a cellphone, he delivered a televised address that called for huge crowds to come out and defend Turkey’s democracy — which they did in Ankara, the capital, and in Istanbul, facing off against troops who had blocked key Bosporus bridges that link the city’s Asian and European sides.
Erdogan flew home early Saturday and declared the coup a failure.
“They have pointed the people’s guns against the people. The president, whom 52 percent of the people brought to power, is in charge. This government brought to power by the people is in charge,” he told large crowds after landing at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim described the night as “a black mark on Turkish democracy” and said the perpetrators “will receive every punishment they deserve.”
He also said July 15 will be remembered as “a festival for democracy,” the day when those who carried out a coup against the people were hit by a coup themselves.
Late Saturday, Defense Minister Fikri Isik said state authorities were in full control of all areas in Turkey following the coup attempt but warned that authorities would remain vigilant.
The uprising appears not to have been backed by the most senior ranks of the military, and Turkey’s main opposition parties quickly condemned the attempted overthrow. Gen. Umit Dundar said the plotters were mainly officers from the Air Force, the military police and the armored units.
Turkey’s four main political parties released a joint declaration during an extraordinary parliamentary meeting later Saturday, denouncing the coup attempt and claiming that any moves against the people or parliament will be met with the “with the iron will of the Turkish Grand National Assembly resisting them.”
The statement praised the Turkish nation for its unwavering belief in democracy and lauded citizens for taking to the streets and resisting the coup.