In an interview with German weekly Die Zeit, Fethullah Gulen, accused by Turkey of orchestrating a coup attempt in July, said that he was sure President Tayyip Erdogan was behind the insurgency.
The US-based cleric said that the attempted military coup violated the principles of the Turkish government and his own worldwide movement ‘Hizmet’.
Gulen pointed to President Erdogan’s comment that the July 14 coup attempt was a “gift from God” because it would allow him to purge the army of Gulen’s supporters.
Asked if he was suggesting that Erdogan was behind the coup, Gulen replied “Until now I only thought that was a possibility. Now I think it’s certain.”
According to Gulen, a Turkish officer recently said that the chief of general staff and the intelligence chief met in the army headquarters during the night of the coup, adding: “They already knew everything that would happen later.”
The exact course of events on that night are as yet, unknown and Erdogan repeatedly complained about an intelligence failure, saying he was only made aware of the coup attempt by his brother-in-law.
Turkish officials have said an informant who came to Turkey’s national intelligence agency provided the tip-off about the coup. The head of the armed forces, along with several other senior commanders, were abducted by the insurgents.
Gulen said the coup provided Erdogan with the opportunity to dismiss thousands of perceived opponents in ministries, the military, the police and judiciary authorities as well as to arrest lawyers, business people, journalists and wives of Gulen supporters, adding that this must have been planned in advance.
After the coup attempt around 100,000 people in the police, civil service, military and judiciary have been sacked or suspended. Another 40,000 people have been detained.
Officials in Turkey have said Ankara’s intelligence agency had already been tracking Gulen followers well before the coup attempt and had identified many figures previously.
In the interview with Die Zeit, Gulen distanced himself from Erdogan, saying they had only met a few times before Erdogan became prime minister in 2003.
“Neither my friends nor I were close to Erdogan ourselves, even if that is being claimed,” he told Die Zeit.
At once time, the Hizmet movement supported Erdogan because when he founded the AK Party he promised to increase democracy and stronger human rights and to limit the military’s political power, Gulen said. But, Erdogan broke his promises after the 2011 election, said Gulen.
Turkey has asked the United States to extradite Gulen and prosecute him on charges of being responsible for the attempt to overthrow the government. Gulen denies any involvement. Washington has said it is cooperating with Ankara on the matter and asked for patience as it processes the extradition request for Gulen to meet US legal requirements.
Gulen also told Die Zeit he did not think the United States would extradite him to Turkey but said that if it did decide to hand him over, he would buy himself a ticket and fly there.