Turkey denies report of plan to kidnap cleric Gulen from US

As Robert Mueller allegedly investigates Michael Flynn and son for ties to Ankara, embassy in Washington calls claims ‘ludicrous and groundless’

In this July 2016 photo, Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen speaks to members of the media at his compound in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Chris Post)
In this July 2016 photo, Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen speaks to members of the media at his compound in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Chris Post)

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey on Sunday dismissed as “ludicrous and groundless” a report that Turkish officials may have discussed kidnapping a US-based Muslim cleric in exchange for millions of dollars.

On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was investigating an alleged plot involving former US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and his son to forcibly remove Fethullah Gulen and hand him over to Ankara for as much as $15 million.

Turkey blames Gulen for last year’s failed coup attempt. Gulen denies the claim.

In a statement on Twitter, Turkey’s embassy in Washington reiterated demands that the US extradite Gulen so he can stand trial. The embassy said Turkey has been working with US agencies to provide evidence of Gulen’s culpability and rejected “allegations that Turkey would resort to means external to the rule of law.”

Turkish officials say they have provided US officials with ample evidence for Gulen’s involvement in the coup that killed 250 people. Nearly 50,000 people are behind bars in Turkey and more than 100,000 civil servants have been dismissed from their jobs for alleged links to the cleric’s network in the government’s crackdown after the failed coup.

Yet questions remain whether Gulen would receive a fair trial in Turkey.

The Turkish embassy said the Turkish people find Gulen’s continued refuge in the US “perplexing and deeply frustrating.”

Gulen has been living in the US for nearly two decades. He is a former ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan until a public fallout in 2013 led the government to declare Gulen’s network a terror group.

Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn arrives on the West Front of the US Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

Relations between Turkey and the US have been tense over disagreements on multiple fronts. The two countries suspended non-immigrant visa services in October in a tit-for-tat following the arrest of two local US embassy employees. The services resumed on a limited basis this month.

Also behind bars in Turkey for alleged links to Gulen is US pastor Andrew Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for over 20 years. Erdogan said in September the US was pressing Turkey to return a “cleric” while refusing to hand over another “cleric.”

Complicating relations further is the case of a Turkish-Iranian businessman on trial in the US for evading US sanctions on Iran. A former Turkish economy minister and an executive of a state-owned Turkish bank have also been indicted. The case starts on November 27.

In a meeting last week, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and Vice President Michael Pence discussed the cases among other strained issues, including the US backing of Syrian Kurdish militants in the war against the Islamic State group.

Turkey has been infuriated by the US support for a group it considers an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, which has waged an insurgency within Turkey for more than 30 years.

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