ISLAMABAD - Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has vowed to bring to justice and punish a U.S.-based opposition Muslim cleric he accused of plotting the failed July 15 coup attempt in his country.
Erdogan spoke Thursday in Pakistan after wide-ranging official talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He later addressed a special joint session of the Pakistani parliament.
“It is now certain that behind this (July 15) coup attempt we have the Gulenist Terrorist Organization and its leader residing in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania,” Erdogan said referring to Fethullah Gulen and his anti-government “Hizmet” movement.
Gulen, a former Erdogan ally in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has repeatedly denied involvement in the coup attempt.
The cleric preaches Sunni Islam with a message of interfaith dialogue. He runs nearly 2,000 educational institutions in countries around the world.
Turkey has requested Gulen’s extradition. U.S. President Barak Obama has stated the cleric would only be extradited through a justified request and as a result of “a legal process.”
A nationwide crackdown of Gulen’s followers has been underway in Turkey since July and Erdogan has urged countries, including Pakistan, to close establishments linked to the cleric on their territories.
The crackdown has led to the removal of more than 100,000 people from their jobs, including academics and journalists 35,000 others, including military officers and opposition politicians, have been arrested for suspected ties to Gulen.
Erdogan defended the actions Thursday, saying Gulen’s followers have been active in Turkey for more than 40 years and have infiltrated the Turkish armed forces, the police, the judiciary and all ministries. He added that around 250 people were killed on the night of the failed coup.
Erdogan reiterated his call for dismantling what he called the FETO terrorist organization.
“We are in the process of taking necessary steps so this evil network and the band of murderers actually face justice and take the necessary punishments,” he said.
In a speech to Pakistani lawmakers, the Turkish president said Gulen is trying to destabilize not only Turkey through acts of terrorism, but “seeking to rule the world” from his U.S. base, using what are classified as educational institutions in many countries.
“This structure has been hiding behind the facade of acceptable concepts and terms of such as delivering service, education and dialogue for many years. But we saw on July 15 they would not refrain from any method, including bloodshed so that they can achieve their purposes.”
The president praised Pakistan for ordering hundreds of Turkish citizens with suspected links to Gulen to leave the country by Sunday. They include teachers, their families, and management at the chain of PakTurk International Schools and Colleges.
The educational network has been operating in Pakistan since 1995 and educates thousands of students in its schools in major Pakistani cities. It denies links to Gulen’s movement.
Erdogan says Turkey and Pakistan will jointly take care of the students studying at the educational network.
Traditionally close relations between Turkey and Pakistan have warmed further under the leadership of Erdogan and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
But the Sharif government is under fire at home for expelling the Turkish staff of the educational network. There are fears staff members will all be arrested when they return to their country.
Critics also say the politically motivated move meant to “please only one person (Erdogan)” has threatened the future of thousands of Pakistani students.
Rights organization Amnesty International reacted to Pakistan's decision of expelling Turkish education's at Erdogan's request. “With 24 million Pakistani children out of school, Pakistan’s decision to expel teachers from the Pak-Turk International Schools and Colleges will only hurt Pakistan’s children. What the country needs is more classrooms and more teachers, not a politically-motivated decision to purge educators at the behest of the Turkish government,” it said.