As the trials over last year’s failed coup attempt in Turkey begin, the alleged leader, Fetullah Gulen, remains at his home in Pennsylvania. Will the Trump administration extradite him?
by Jay Lorenz
Last July, an apparent coup attempt was made against the Turkish government which killed 249 people and injured over 2,000. Turkish president Recep Erdogan has identified the plotters as an Islamist group led by Fethullah Gulen. The largest trial over the event thus far began in August and is still ongoing, with 481 people set to get hearings. In all, 50,000 Turks were arrested as a result of last year’s putsch.
Missing from the proceedings is the coup’s alleged leader, Gulen. Gulen is the head of an Islamist movement which he calls “Hizmet” (Turkish for “service”), but the Turkish government calls the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETO). Gulen’s network of Islamic schools, businesses, and charities spans 160 countries, and is headquartered in America, a country Gulen has described as “our merciless enemy.” Ankara claims that Gulen used his power and influence to slowly infiltrate the government with loyalists, then ordered a coup d’état. Erdogan has demanded his extradition, but the United States has refused on lack of evidence. This case highlights a major problem in America–how was a foreigner allowed to run a massive anti-American Islamist movement from within U.S. borders and orchestrate a coup in a foreign country? This is a problem a serious country would not have.
The lack of extradition has caused friction with Ankara. Earlier this month, Erdogan said, of the decision, “These developments in the United States are not good at all. The United States is still a country where the FETO gang is being protected.” This issue adds to an already tense relationship between the counties, which are nominally allies, but have been at loggerheads over the U.S. support of Kurdish fighters in Syria among other dustups. However, during a phone call last week, Erdogan and Trump discussed strengthening ties between the nations and meeting at the UN General Assembly later this month.
Ankara will continue to press for Gulen’s extradition at every chance, including at the Trump-Erdogan meeting at the UN. It remains to be seen how the U.S. will react. On one hand, one can understand the instinct to ignore the requests of Turkey, which is an ally America could do without. On the other hand, Gulen is a powerful Islamist operating within our borders. Extradition or not, he should not be here. In the end, Turkey’s desire to bring Gulen to justice makes him a great diplomatic chip for Trump to use in his dealings with Erdogan, a fact that Trump should exploit,