Turkey's Erdogan to US: Hand over exiled cleric Gulen

Story highlights

  • Erdogan: US will soon have to make a choice between Turkey and Gulen
  • Demand comes after Turkish and Russian leaders meet in Moscow

(CNN)Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to give the United States an ultimatum, demanding the extradition of a cleric he believes is behind the failed July 15 coup attempt.

Erdogan said the US would eventually have to choose between its relationship with Turkey and Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally who has been in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported Wednesday.
    "Sooner or later the US will make a choice. Either Turkey or FETO," Erdogan said, in reference to the movement headed by Gulen.
    Turkey has requested Gulen's extradition, with a delegation of parliamentarians handing over dozens of boxes of documents to US officials to support its case.
    President Obama has said that the cleric would only be extradited as a result of "a legal process," and if the extradition request is found to be justified according to the relevant laws and treaties.
    Gulen has repeatedly denied involvement in the coup attempt and rejected Turkish arrest warrants issued for him.
    Erdogan went on to say that the US was "in a position to make a choice" over the issue, Anadolu reported.
    "We sent 85 boxes of files," he said, adding that he assumed the US would not keep the cleric any longer, but "send him back."
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    CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos says that extradition from the US is generally only granted pursuant to a treaty -- one of which exists between the US and Turkey.
    But extradition requests are complex matters, typically complicated by "unique and knotty treaties, multilayer exceptions to rules and nebulous definitions of extraditable crimes," he wrote.
    "The result is that every extradition request becomes a case-by-case analysis, guided by the moment's prevailing international political winds."

    Post-coup strain on Turkey's relations with West

    The Gulen issue has strained relations between Ankara and other members of the NATO alliance.
    While ties with Washington threaten to cool, 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.
    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 within 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.
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    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 purge has come in for criticism from Western governments, further straining relations with Turkey in the wake of the attempted coup, which claimed 239 lives and injured nearly 2,200.
    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.