- Associated Press - Thursday, October 27, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) - Turkey’s justice minister on Thursday pressed the United States to extradite a Muslim cleric it accuses of orchestrating the July failed coup attempt or risk seriously harming relations between the two countries.

Bekir Bozdag, who spoke to reporters a day after meeting with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, accused Pennsylvania-based Fethullah Gulen of being a terrorist.

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

The U.S. has been reluctant to extradite Gulen, stressing that Turkey must first present sufficient evidence of his involvement in the coup attempt, which led to more than 270 deaths. Gulen has denied any involvement.

The Justice Department said in a statement Wednesday that “in both countries extraditions are subject to the judicial process, and accordingly must meet the evidentiary standards of the requested country.”

Bozdag said fresh evidence Turkey presented against Gulen includes confessions of alleged coup plotters in Turkey who say they acted on Gulen’s orders. The Turkish justice minister also said that Gulen was receiving secret recordings of conversations of a top Turkish official provided to the cleric by one of his followers.

“But of course if the process is prolonged or if a flaw happens in this process, this would mean a huge blow to the relationship,” Bozdag said. “We want the United States to understand us, because there is a growing anti-Americanism among Turkish people.”

The Turkish government has cracked down on Gulen’s followers. Thousands of people have been detained for alleged links to the coup and tens of thousands have been dismissed or suspended from government jobs.

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