State Department spokesman Mark Toner confirmed Tuesday the Turkish government’s formal request for the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania resident who Turkey suspects of being a mastermind behind last week’s failed military coup.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said earlier in the day during a Justice Development Party meeting in Anakara, “we have sent four dossiers to the United States for the extradition of the terrorist chief,” Andalolu news reported.
Toner said the U.S. is reviewing the case, adding “this is a legal process based on evidence, not driven by political agendas…this is not a political decision.”
“What we will do and what we pledge to do is study the evidence, look at it, weigh the evidence, adjudicate it according to the best legal standards that we have and make a decision based on the evidence,” said Toner, with regards to Gulen.
He noted the evidence would be reviewed in conjunction with the Justice Department and wouldn’t happen over night.
Toner also addressed allegations suggesting the U.S. was involved in the coup attempt, stating the U.S. rejects any rumors that the “United States is in any way involved, is in any way complicit with any such effort to overthrow the democratically elected government of Turkey.”
He said the U.S. is “mindful of the fact that emotions are running high in Turkey right now, and that’s understandable, we certainly don’t want it to become a political issue.”
Gulen could not be immediately reached for comment when contacted by Circa at his compound in Pennsylvania.
Turkey’s request places the U.S. in a precarious corner and against a growing tide of anger from Turkish officials, who have been rounding up members of their military and civilians involved in the deadly coup.
Luke Coffey, a research fellow specializing in Eurasian security and director of Heritage’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington D.C. told Circa the Turkish government has been trying to extradite Gulen for years.
Coffey said Ankara’s accusations that Gulen was behind the coup is “quite a charge.”
“The US has asked for specific evidence and the Turkish government has provided information on what they believe lays out the case against Gulen,” he said. “It remains to be seen if he gets extradited but US should only do so if his case meets all the criteria under US law. The rules should not be changed for Turkey.”
Turkish news reported at least 208 people, both military and civilians, were killed and more than 1,500 were wounded during the uprising.
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Brussels Monday that the United States has “a formal process for dealing with extradition requests” and asked Turkey to send “evidence, not allegations.
Turkish authorities arrested roughly 3,000 suspected members of their military after the coup failed. Pictures revealed military members being forced to strip down to their underwear after their arrests.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been criticized over the past year by opponents, who say he is wielding extraordinary executive power against the military and judiciary.
Follow Sara A. Carter on Twitter @SaraCarterDC