Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave the United States “an ultimatum,” demanding the extradition of the cleric he believes is behind the failed July 15 coup attempt.
The state-run Anadolu news agency reported that Erdogan had said the US had to choose between its relationship with Turkey and Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally who has been in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania for decades.
Turkey has requested his extradition, while Gulen denied involvement in the coup.
While ties with Washington threaten to cool over the Gulen issue, the Turkish leader this week visited Moscow, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in the first sign of rapprochement between the two leaders since Turkey shot down a Russian jet nine months ago.
“Sooner or later the US will make a choice. Either Turkey or FETO,” Erdogan said, in reference to the movement headed by Gulen.
Turkey considers the cleric and his followers terrorists. Last weekend, at a unity rally, he likened the coup plotters to “terrorists wearing military uniforms.”
During that rally, he said he would sign a reintroduction of the death penalty into law if it was approved by parliament. Such a move would likely end Turkey’s ambitions to join the European Union.
He likened Gulen’s followers to ISIS, which has repeatedly bombed targets withing Turkey, and the Kurdish separatist movement PKK, which is listed as a terror organization by the US.
Erdogan: FETO the same as ISIS, PKK
“Those who follow the Pennsylvania-based charlatan (Gulen) who sold his soul to the devil, or Daesh, which shed Muslim blood, or the PKK that also has shed blood for 30 years to divide the country and the nation, will all lose in the end,” Erdogan was quoted as saying, referring to ISIS by its Arabic acronym.
In the wake of the failed takeover, the government has conducted massive arrest campaigns, detaining thousands of individuals from the military, schools and universities, health services and the media.
Erdogan’s government has attempted to justify its heavy-handed actions by insinuating that the Gulen movement has infiltrated these different institutions.
The coup attempt claimed 239 lives and injured nearly 2,200 others.
Meanwhile, Ankara continues to wrestle with terror threats. On Wednesday, two bomb blasts killed at least eight people and injured dozens more in southern Turkey, a senior official said.
One of the explosions targeted a police bus outside Mardin State Hospital in the town of Kiziltepe, on the Turkish border with Syria.
Initial assessments indicate Kurdish militants were behind both attacks, the official said.