- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2016

Turkey’s justice minister says U.S.-Turkey relations are being damaged by Washington’s unwillingness to extradite a reclusive Muslim cleric whom Turkish leaders accuse of masterminding the recent failed military coup in their nation.

“The prolongation of the extradition process is affecting relations between the U.S. and Turkey negatively,” Justice Minister Bakir Bozdag told reporters at the Turkish Embassy, a day after he met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch to discuss the matter.

Mr. Bozdag said he had a “fruitful” meeting with Ms. Lynch, but he also voiced frustration that U.S. officials have been reluctant to accept evidence Ankara claims to have compiled proving Fethullah Gulen’s involvement in July’s coup attempt.

The issue as been a sticky one between Washington and Ankara since early August, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself criticized the Obama administration for refusing to arrest and extradite the 75-year-old cleric.

Mr. Gulen, who has been living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since the late-1990s, has publicly denied any involvement in the failed coup.

But Mr. Erdogan claimed U.S.-based charter schools sponsored by Mr. Gulen serve as the main source of income for a worldwide network of the cleric’s followers, including operatives inside Turkey that the Turkish president alleges acted on the cleric’s behalf.

Mehmet Mehdi Eker, deputy chairman of Mr. Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, went further during a September interview with The Washington Times, asserting that Mr. Gulen’s movement is a “messianic and double-faced cult” pursuing “clandestine operations” to overthrow the Turkish government.

The Erdogan government has engaged in a sweeping crackdown, detaining thousands of military officials it says carried out the failed coup that resulted in 300 deaths and more than 2,000 people injured.

While Turkish officials have spent the past three months pushing for Mr. Gulen’s extradition, the Obama administration has been loath to discuss the matter publicly.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry has said Ankara would have to show clear evidence of Mr. Gulen’s involvement for U.S. courts to consider the cleric’s extradition.

The Justice Department appeared to hold that line in a statement Wednesday night, saying Ms. Lynch and Mr. Bozdag had discussed how an existing U.S.-Turkey treaty stipulates that a case “must meet the evidentiary standards” of the the United States in order for extradition to occur.

Mr. Bozdag seemed unfazed Thursday by the American statement, asserting that there is ample evidence against Mr. Gulen. When pressed for details, however, the justice minister spoke only generally, claiming that several military officials detained during the failed coup’s aftermath had admitted to being followers of Mr. Gulen.

At one point, he claimed that a high-level military aide in detention had admitted to having made secret wiretap recordings of meetings among senior military officials before the coup attempt. The recordings were transferred to “someone in Pennsylvania,” said Mr. Bozdag, insinuating that the recipient was Mr. Gulen.

The justice minister also claimed that there were “many statements” indicating the coup attempt was carried out by “plotters upon the instruction of Fethullah Gulen.”

“These statements [were] taken by public prosecutors with the presence of a lawyer,” he said, asserting that transcripts of the statements have been provided as evidence to U.S. authorities as part of Ankara’s ongoing extradition request.

Mr. Bozdag compared Mr. Gulen to al Qaeda’s dead founder and pleaded for Washington to show some “empathy” for Turkish leaders certain of the cleric’s guilty.

“Whatever Osama bin Laden means for the United States and for the American people, Fethullah Gulen means the same for Turkey and Turkish people,” Mr. Bozdag said.

He called on Americans to “just imagine” if the situation were reversed — if “there was an assassination attempt to President Obama and his family or the White House was bombed.”

“Just imagine that the manager and the perpetrator of all these activities is residing in Turkey,” Mr. Bozdag said. “What would the American people think about such a situation?”

“Whatever you are sharing or feeling about this situation,” he said, “we just want you to consider our sensitivity within this framework.”

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