Turkey's Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag has warned the US not to sacrifice bilateral relations for the sake of Pennsylvania-based preacher Fethullah Gulen. Ankara blames Gulen for the July 15 failed coup.
Speaking in an interview with state-run Anadolu Agency, broadcast live on Turkish television channels, Bozdag (pictured above) said: "If the US does not deliver [Gulen], they will sacrifice relations with Turkey for the sake of a terrorist."
Turkey has repeatedly demanded Washington extradite Gulen to face trial in Turkey.
The call comes as President Tayyip Erdogan meets his Russian counterpart in Moscow, with Ankara seemingly moving towards some kind of foreign policy realignment, with likely effects on the situation in Syria and the US's role in the conflict.
A senior Turkish official told reporters recently that Turkey's intelligence agency has identified at least 56,000 operatives of Gulen's network as they cracked the little-known smartphone messaging app called ByLock, which the group began using in 2014.
Bozdag asked how the US would react in a similar situation. "What if there were an attempted assassination on Obama, while he is with his wife and children on holiday, if the White House were bombed?"
US not impressed
Representatives from the US side, according to a report in the "Wall Street Journal" have questioned the credibility of Ankara's evidence. US officials are reportedly skeptical that statements by alleged coup-plotters implicating Gulen weren't coerced, the newspaper reported.
The newspaper reports that US officials don't expect to extradite Gulen, although US and Turkish officials have reportedly had privately discussions over scenarios under which Gulen might be extradited.
The more Turkish officials talk publicly about Gulen's alleged role in the coup and demand his immediate transfer, the less likely such a transfer becomes, the newspaper notes.
Turkey's prime minister, Binali Yildirim, told The Wall Street Journal in July that: "the evidence is crystal clear. We know the terrorist cult responsible for vicious attacks against us and the Turkish people…We simply cannot understand why the U.S. just can't hand over this individual."
Ankara has detained, removed or suspended several thousand people in the judiciary, military, police and public service over alleged links with the abortive July 15 coup, when a group in the military tried to oust Erdogan and the government. Over 240 people were killed and nearly 2,200 people were wounded.
Bozdag went on to say that 16,000 people have been formally arrested and remanded in custody after the failed coup in July. Another 6,000 detainees are still being processed, he said. Another 7,668 people are under investigation but are not being detained, he added.
Bozdag again rejected allegations of torture that have been raised, among others, by Amnesty International.
jbh/kl (AFP, Reuters, dpa)