Anti-American sentiment is growing among Turkish people and can only be hindered by the U.S. extraditing Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, said Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag on Tuesday.
“There is a serious anti-American feeling in Turkey, and this is turning into hatred,” Bozdag said in a live television interview with Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency. “It is in the hands of the United States to stop this anti-American feeling leading to hatred.”
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has accused Gulen of being the mastermind behind the country’s failed July 15 coup which left about 290 people dead and over 2200 people injured.
Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile in rural Pennsylvania since 1999 but has a religious movement with a wide following in Turkey where it runs a global network of charities, businesses and schools.
The Turkish government declared his movement a terror organization and has demanded his return to Turkey to face trial.
“That terrorist head will come to Turkey and be brought to account. That man who ordered the bombing of Turkey and the parliament, who pointed Turkey’s armaments toward the Turkish people will get the punishment he deserves,” said Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Tuesday.
Gulen denies being involved in the attempted coup and has accused Erdogan of using the coup to accumulate greater power.
Responding to Turkey’s request for Gulen’s extradition, the U.S. government has said that Ankara must first provide clear evidence of the cleric’s involvement in the coup. Last week a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said that Washington is currently considering new documents it has received.
Erdogan has faulted the U.S. and European Union for not condemning the abortive coup enough and for showing a lack of solidarity with Turkey. He also criticised them for expressing more sympathy for the rights of those being arrested in connection with the coup, of whom he believes are traitors.
Bozdag said on Tuesday that the U.S. would be sacrificing its alliance to “a terrorist” if it refuses to extradite Gulen.
“If the US does not deliver [Gulen], they will sacrifice relations with Turkey for the sake of a terrorist.”
“The United States is a great state and I believe will do what is expected from a great state.”
Bozdag added that Turkish authorities were still investigating who, after Gulen, was the number 2 suspect in plotting the coup.
“There is no firm information on who the head of state would have been, who the prime minister would have been, if this coup had been successful,” stated Bozdag.
He also said that the country has arrested 16,000 suspects pending trial in connection with the coup attempt, with 6000 detainees being interrogated. At least 7668 are being investigated but not detained.
He denied allegations that coup suspects were being tortured.
“It is a great distortion of events to display acts during the conflict as if they were made during the custody period,” Bozdag said. “The files are clear. Turkey is a country which acts within the understanding of zero-tolerance of torture.”
Since the attempted coup, pro-government newspapers have been publishing articles with conspiracy theories accusing the U.S. and the CIA of plotting the attempted power grab.
One paper claimed the coup was financed by the CIA and directed by a retired U.S. army general using a cell in Afghanistan. Another said an island hotel off Istanbul was used by CIA agents as a nerve center for the plot.
Turkish authorities have said that the country’s intelligence service hacked several smartphone messaging apps that Gulen’s followers used to communicate with one another in the years prior to the failed coup.
A senior Turkish official said the intelligence agency has identified at least 56,000 operatives of Gulen’s network after cracking a little-known smartphone instant messaging app called ByLock, which he said the group began using in 2014. They were able to trace their network.
“Our assessment is that 150,000 unique operatives used ByLock to communicate with others,” the official said.
He added that the group also used another app called Eagle which could be disguised as other popular instant messaging apps such as Tango and Whatsapp.
“We assess that Eagle was used by operatives to share various operational details as well as during the planning stage of the July 15 coup attempt,” the official said, adding that the Gulen network continued to use Eagle.
John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, will visit Turkey on August 24.