ANKARA, Turkey (AFP) — Turkey warned the United States on Tuesday not to sacrifice bilateral ties over Pennsylvania-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the failed coup and wants to see extradited.
“If the US does not deliver (Gulen), they will sacrifice relations with Turkey for the sake of a terrorist,” Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told reporters during a televised briefing in the capital Ankara.
Turkey has repeatedly pressed Washington to extradite the 75-year-old cleric to face trial over the July 15 attempted putsch, which saw a rogue military faction try to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Gulen strongly denies Ankara’s accusations and his lawyer on Friday said Turkey had failed to provide “a scintilla” of proof to support its claim.
Bozdag asked rhetorically how Washington would react if a person responsible for violence in the US was being hosted by Turkey.
“What if there was an attempted assassination of (President Barack) Obama while he was on holiday with his wife and children, if the White House was bombed, if tanks were driven over people, if soldiers shot at people from helicopters and the terrorist head responsible for all this was in Turkey?”
The coup attempt took place while Erdogan was on a family holiday in southern Turkey and saw both the parliament and the area around the presidential palace bombed from the air.
US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said some of the rhetoric coming from Turkey was not “helpful” and that Washington expected Turkish officials “to be responsible in their statements.”
“We believe our relations and our partnership and our friendship with Turkey is strong,” she told reporters, adding that any extradition of Gulen would be “a legal, technical process… governed by the 1981 extradition treaty signed by both of our countries.”
She condemned claims in the Turkish press that the Wilson Center, a US academic institution, was involved in the coup.
“This sort of conspiracy theory, inflammatory rhetoric — as I said — is absolutely not helpful,” she said. “Conspiracy theories get us nowhere.”
Bozdag said if the US did not extradite Gulen, relations between the two would be negatively affected despite being “two friendly countries” at present.
The minister added that anti-US sentiment had shot up in Turkey over the Gulen issue and urged Washington to act before it worsened.
“It is in the hands of the US to stop Turkish anti-US feeling becoming hate,” he said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who could visit Turkey in late August according to Ankara, said just days after the coup attempt that Turkey must present “genuine evidence” and “not allegations” against Gulen for his extradition.
Turkey has also come under heavy criticism from the West over the extent of the crackdown on those accused of links to the coup and the Gulen movement.
Since July 15, tens of thousands of people from the military, judiciary, civil service and education suspected of links with the movement have been sacked or detained.
Bozdag said around 16,000 were in custody ahead of trial while another 6,000 people were in detention awaiting initial court hearings.
The mass dismissals have created gaps in state institutions and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Tuesday 25,000 new teachers and police officers would be employed after the purge.