Turkey’s president and its prime minister issued thinly-veiled threats to the U.S. on Saturday if it does not extradite an Islamic cleric living in the mountains of Pennsylvania.
“Any country that protects Fethullah Gulen will be an enemy to Turkey,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Saturday, naming the imam who Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asserts is the mastermind behind Friday’s failed coup.
“This is not a country that can be run from Pennsylvania,” Erdoğan said in reference to Gulen as the attempted overthrow was still underway.
“Dear Mr. President: I told you this before,” Erdoğan said in a direct address to Obama later on Saturday. “Either arrest Fethullah Gulen or return him to Turkey. You didn’t listen. I call on you again, after there was a coup attempt, extradite this man in Pennsylvania to Turkey. If we are strategic partners or model partners, do what is necessary.”
Gulen, who has lived in self-exile in the Pocono Mountains since 1999, told reporters after those threats that Erdoğan himself could be behind the coup.
“There is a slight chance, there is a possibility that it could be a staged coup,” the preacher told reporters through a translator, Reuters reported.
“It could be meant for court accusations and associations,” he added, while criticizing Erdoğan as having “no tolerance for any movement, any group, any organization that is not under their total control.”
On Friday, Gulen said he condemned the coup attempt “in the strongest terms.”
“Government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force,” he said in a statement issued through Alliance for Shared Values, a New York-based non-profit operated by Y. Alp Aslandogan, a top Gulen acolyte. (RELATED: Exiled Cleric Blamed For Masterminding Turkish Coup Is Denying Involvement)
Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to take the threat from its NATO ally seriously.
Speaking to reporters from Luxembourg on Saturday he said that the U.S. “would invite the government of Turkey, as we always do, to present us with legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny.”
“And the United States will accept that and look at it and make judgments about it appropriately.”
He added that the U.S. has not received “any request with respect to Mr. Gulen.”
“We fully anticipate that there will be questions raised about Mr. Gulen,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
Gulen and Erdoğan were allies, at least publicly, until 2013. That’s when Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time, broke with the cleric and blamed him for orchestrating corruption investigations targeting him and his allies.
Shortly after Erdoğan was elected president in 2014, he reportedly asked President Obama to extradite Gulen. Followers of the cleric and his movement, called Hizmet, fill out many of Turkey’s institutions, including the media, judiciary and police force.
Erdoğan regularly blames Hizmet, which he calls the “parallel structure,” for undermining his regime. The Islamist leader has cracked down on Gulenists and targeted media companies and other businesses with links to Gulen.
There is no public evidence yet that Gulen or his followers were behind the coup, which left around 250 soldiers, police and civilians dead. Thousands of members of the Turkish military were arrested, as were members of the police force and judiciary.
Kerry, President Obama, and Hillary Clinton all offered support for Erdoğan’s government and denounced the uprising.
Links to Gulen could come to haunt Clinton should she become president.
As The Daily Caller has reportedly recently, top U.S. Gulenists have donated heavily to Clinton’s campaigns over the years and to her family charity, the Clinton Foundation. One of those donors, Gokhan Ozkok, even emailed Clinton’s top aide, Huma Abedin, in 2009 to ask for a favor from Clinton. (RELATED: New Ties Emerge Between Clinton And Mysterious Islamic Cleric)
Ozkok asked Abedin to have Clinton, then secretary of state, to direct President Obama to meet in Turkey with Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who at the time served as Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
Ihsanoglu lost to Erdoğan in the 2014 presidential election.
Obama did meet with Ihsanoglu in Turkey and invited him to a White House meeting later that year.
Ozkok and another top Gulenist, Recep Ozkan, served as national finance co-chairs for Clinton’s political action committee, Ready PAC. Ozkan, who has served as president of the Turkish Cultural Center, also donated between $500,000 and $1 million to the Clinton Foundation last year.
The Alliance for Shared Values, the group which issued Gulen’s recent statement, also recently hired the Podesta Group to lobby on its behalf. The Podesta Group was co-founded by Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.
In addition to targeting Gulen and Gulenists from inside Turkey, Erdoğan has sought to discredit the cleric here in the U.S.
His government has contracted the lobbying firm Amsterdam & Partners to issue press releases, conduct research, and file legal complaints against Gulen’s network of 150-plus charter schools.
Some of those accusations against the charter school network predate that lobbying effort. In 2012, “60 Minutes” ran an expose citing whistle-blowers who claimed that the schools took advantage of the U.S. visa system by hiring Turkish teachers so that they could get visas.
Many of those teachers were not equipped for the job. Some claimed that they were forced to give a large portion of their salary back to the schools, which are often attached to non-profits operated by top U.S.-based Gulenists.
In 2011, The New York Times reported that contractors controlled by Turkish businessmen tied to Hizmet were awarded contracts for work on the taxpayer-funded Gulen charter schools.
Alsandogan, the executive director of the Alliance for Shared Values, was named in that article. He was tied to Harmony Public Schools, a Texas-based charter school chain. Alsanodgon operated the Texas Gulf Foundation, which controlled some contracts for work on the charter schools.
Robert Amsterdam, the lawyer who runs Amsterdam & Partners, told the Associated Press that “there are indications of direct involvement” by Gulen in the coup attempt.
Turkish intelligence services have said that “there are signs that Gulen is working closely with certain members of military leadership against the elected civilian government,” Amsterdam added.
This article has been updated with comments from Erdoğan.