Lawyers for US-based Turkish cleric fear attacks on his life

Fethullah Gulen

Fethullah Gulen

Lawyers for US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen said on Friday they feared attacks on his life following Turkey’s demands that he be extradited to face allegations that he ordered a failed coup against the government last month.

His lawyers said they expect Gulen, who has denied any involvement in the July 15 coup attempt, will remain in his remote mountain compound in Pennsylvania.

“We have read concerns from Turkey that Mr Gulen, this elderly, frail religious leader, is going to flee to another country,” said his attorney Reid Weingarten on Friday, calling such allegations “absurd.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has blamed Gulen for the coup and resulting violence, in which Erdogan said 237 civilians were killed and more than 2,100 wounded. Erdogan has called on the United States to extradite him to Turkey.

The US government has not complied with this request, and the resulting dispute has raised serious questions about relations between the two allies.

Turkey, a member of the NATO alliance, allows the US military and American jets to utilise the critically-located Incirlik Air Base, which is vital to the success of the US-led fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Ankara has sent the United States new documents in recent days containing evidence that Turkish authorities say proves the cleric was behind the attempted coup. US officials say they are examining them. US Secretary of State John Kerry is due to visit Turkey later this month, Ankara confirmed on Friday.

On Friday, Turkey’s ruling party instructed its local branches and party-led municipalities to purge themselves of suspected Gulen supporters.

The Justice and Development Party, founded by Erdogan, issued a circular ordering its members to “immediately start efforts to purge those linked to the (Gulen movement) or who gave support to the reprehensible coup,” the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

The circular also called on local branches to avoid “agitation and gossip” during the purges.

The circular was issued hours before Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev was to arrive in Turkey, becoming the first foreign head of state to visit since the failed coup. Turkey is also pressing its allies to crackdown on Gulen-linked schools and charities and was expected to ask the Kazakh leader to shut down Gulen-run establishments in his Central Asian nation.

Since the coup attempt, nearly 70,000 people suspected of links to Gulen have been suspended or dismissed from jobs in the civil service, judiciary, education, health care and the military. And about 18,000 people have been detained or arrested, mostly from the military, on suspicion of being involved in the failed putsch.

The crackdown has also expanded to journalists and former employees of Gulen-linked media. On Friday, Anadolu said 12 journalists who used to work for Zaman newspaper were formally arrested pending trial, including columnist Mumtazer Turkone. Six other journalists were jailed pending trial last week.