Istanbul, Reuters—Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday he would ask the United States to extradite an Islamic cleric he accuses of plotting to topple him and undermine Turkey with concocted graft accusations and secret wire taps.
Fethullah Gülen has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1997 when secularist authorities raised accusations of Islamist activity against him. He denies engineering a police graft investigation but has denounced Erdoğan over moves to shut down the inquiry by purging the police and judiciary of his followers.
Asked by a reporter at parliament after a meeting of Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies if a process will begin for his extradition from the United States, Erdoğan said: “Yes, it will begin.”
In an interview with PBS talk show host Charlie Rose broadcast late on Monday, Erdoğan said Gülen, a former ally with broad support in the police and judiciary, could also pose a threat to US security through his activities.
“These elements which threaten the national security of Turkey cannot be allowed to exist in other countries because what they do to us here, they might do against their host,” Erdoğan told Rose in the interview, according to a transcript.
He said Turkey had canceled Gülen’s passport and that he remained in the United States on a green card as a legal resident.
Gülen runs a network of businesses and schools, well-funded and secular in nature, across the world. The schools are a major source of influence and funding and have therefore become the target of government efforts to have them shut down.
Erdoğan accuses Gülen of contriving criminal allegations that his son and the children of three ministers were involved in a corruption scandal and took billions of dollars of bribes.
He has also accused Gülen’s Hizmet (Service) movement of bugging thousands of phones and leaking audio recordings, including purportedly of his foreign minister and senior security officials discussing possible armed intervention in neighboring Syria, on the website YouTube. Gülen has also denied these accusations.
The recordings appeared ahead of a March 30 municipal election, but did little to affect Erdoğan’s popularity, with his AKP dominating the electoral map.
Erdoğan said Turkey had complied with more than 10 extradition requests from the United States and now expected the same response from its NATO ally. He did not say whether Turkey had officially made an extradition request.