Europe

Turkey coup bid: Fethullah Gulen's lawyers fear attack on his life

Fethullah Gulen Image copyright AFP
Image caption Fethullah Gulen lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania

Lawyers for US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen say they fear an attack on his life, in the wake of the failed coup attempt on 15 July in Turkey.

Turkey has issued an arrest warrant for Mr Gulen, accusing him of orchestrating the coup attempt. It has called on the US to extradite him.

Mr Gulen denies any involvement.

Turkey has cracked down heavily in the wake of the coup attempt. On Friday the governing AK Party ordered an internal purge of Gulen supporters.

More than 270 people died in events surrounding the coup attempt.

Speaking at a news conference in Washington, Mr Gulen's lawyers said they expected him to remain at the Pennsylvania compound where he lives in self-imposed exile, and not attempt to flee.

Mr Gulen is a reclusive figure who rarely makes contact with the media.

Legal battle looms: By the BBC's Barbara Plett Usher in Washington

Turkey's demand for the immediate extradition of Fethullah Gulen is putting a strain on US relations with Turkey, a crucial Middle East ally and indispensable regional partner in the fight against so-called Islamic State.

On the one hand, US officials have acknowledged the national trauma triggered by the coup attempt. On the other, they are uneasy about the purges that followed and want to be sure Mr Gulen is not the target of a political vendetta.

They have been more cautious than European governments about criticising the extent of the crackdown. But when it comes to the extradition request, they emphasise the need for evidence that would directly link the cleric to the failed coup and would stand up in a US court.

They have made clear this is a legal process that will play out over months. The justice department is currently going through documents Turkey has submitted to determine whether they constitute a formal extradition request.

Mr Gulen's lawyers said it was unlikely any extradition request would stand up in a US court and there was almost no chance that their client would get a fair trial in Turkey, given what had been said against him there since the coup attempt.

One of the lawyers, Reid Weingarten, said: "It would be unprecedented and appalling if the United States took a frail almost-octogenarian, plopped him on a plane to go back into that kind of setting with the hideous things that are being said about him by the entire Turkish government."

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Media captionThe women regarded as heroes after Turkey's failed coup attempt

Much of Turkey's crackdown has targeted perceived supporters of the cleric.

Tens of thousands of public sector workers have been suspended or dismissed, with many having their passports cancelled. There has also been a massive reshuffle of the military.

About 18,000 people have been detained or arrested.

Now local branches of the AK Party have been told to begin a purge of suspected Gulenists in their ranks.

Mr Gulen had been a close ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan until a bitter split between his movement and the party of the president three years ago.

Turkey has listed Mr Gulen's movement as a terrorist organisation.

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