QuickTake Q&A: Turkey Must Take These Steps to Extradite Cleric

Turkish authorities say they have formally asked the U.S. to hand over Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric living in Pennsylvania whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses of inspiring a July 15 coup attempt. For the U.S. to approve an extradition request, it must contain credible evidence of crimes and meet specific standards. Those are contained in a treaty signed by the U.S. and Turkey in 1979.

1. Who is Fethullah Gulen?

Gulen, 75, won a following in Turkey in the 1970s and 1980s while employed as a state-authorized imam, or mosque preacher. He helped establish dormitories for needy students that evolved into a global network of schools that form a key part of his organization, called Hizmet, or “the service." A onetime ally of Erdogan, Gulen left Turkey in 1999 after the broadcast of tapes that showed him telling followers to infiltrate government institutions. Though acquitted of charges that he formed a terrorist group to undermine the secular state, he hasn’t set foot in his homeland this millennium and is thought to be in poor health. He lives in a compound in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.

2. Has Gulen reacted to the coup bid?

Gulen’s Alliance for Shared Values group was swift to reject the coup attempt. “We condemn any military intervention in domestic politics of Turkey,” it said in a statement on its website. That hasn’t placated Turkish authorities. While the government has so far provided no evidence publicly to back its claim that Gulen had a hand in the plot, a senior Turkish official, requesting anonymity to discuss the investigation, said authorities had “strong evidence linking the failed coup’s leaders to the Gulen movement.” Erdogan’s purge of security services and the judiciary has targeted followers of Gulen.

3. Is Gulen subject to extradition?

It depends what Turkey charges him with and how U.S. authorities interpret the request. As is common in such agreements, the one between the U.S. and Turkey bars extradition for offenses "of a political character." Individuals trying to avoid extradition can try to show their actions were in response to a violent political conflict such as a war, revolution or rebellion. Another provision prohibits extradition as punishment for political opinions. Yet another clause gives Turkey an edge. It exempts from the exclusions any offense "committed or attempted against a Head of State or a Head of Government" -- like, arguably, a coup attempt.

4. What is the extradition process?

The request would likely involve Justice Department prosecutors under the oversight of the agency’s international affairs office. The official responsible for deciding whether to surrender a fugitive is the secretary of state, currently John Kerry. If the decision is to extradite, Gulen could appeal to the courts.

5. What’s at stake?

Beyond Gulen’s own future, an extradition dispute could affect the crucial alliance between the U.S. and Turkey. Erdogan has already suggested that turning over Gulen should be viewed as a U.S. responsibility to a “strategic partner” in the fight against terrorism. The U.S. uses Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base as a staging point for the fight against Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq.

The Reference Shelf

  • A QuickTake explainer on Turkey’s power struggles over the decades.
  • A story on Erdogan’s plans to turn the failed coup into “a gift from God.”
  • A closer look at the enmity between Erdogan and Gulen.
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