Justice Department to Dispatch Team to Turkey for Gulen Probe

  • Turkey hasn’t provided evidence of role in coup: official
  • Cleric has denied involvement in effort to overthrow Erdogan

The U.S. Justice Department will dispatch a team to Turkey in coming days to pursue allegations by the Turkish government of criminal activity by Fethullah Gulen, an Obama administration official said Friday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded that the U.S. extradite Gulen, a 75-year-old Muslim scholar who lives in rural Pennsylvania, after a failed coup attempt in July by elements of the Turkish military. The extradition request was discussed by the U.S. official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, ahead of a visit to Ankara on Aug. 24 by Vice President Joe Biden.

While Turkey has repeatedly blamed Gulen for the attempt to overthrow the government -- and has jailed thousands of his alleged followers and allies within the country -- they haven’t presented formal evidence to the Justice Department so far that he was involved in the coup attempt, the official said. Instead, the evidence focuses on alleged plotting and criminal behavior by Gulen before the coup.

For a QuickTake Q&A on steps to extradite Gulen, click here.

Erdogan has personally lobbied President Barack Obama to turn over Gulen, an ally turned enemy. Turkey says Gulen’s movement, which includes an international network of schools, charities, and businesses, is a terrorist organization. But the Obama administration has said Turkey needs to provide clear evidence of criminal activity to satisfy U.S. due-process requirements as well as provisions of the U.S.-Turkey extradition treaty.

Sending the Justice Department team may be intended to assure Erdogan that the U.S. is taking the extradition request seriously. On Thursday, Erdogan admonished the U.S., saying that as a strategic partner the country should turn over the cleric.

Gulen has denied involvement in the coup while criticizing Erdogan for what he calls authoritarian tendencies.