ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey’s justice minister said Tuesday the United States would be sacrificing its alliance with Turkey to “a terrorist” if it were to refuse to extradite a U.S.-based Muslim cleric whom the government says is behind the July 15 failed coup.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag also told the state-run Anadolu Agency that anti-American sentiment in Turkey was reaching “its peak” over the issue of cleric Fethullah Gulen’s return and risked turning into hatred.
Turkey has branded Gulen’s movement a terror organization and wants him returned to Turkey to face trial. Washington has said it would need evidence of the cleric’s involvement, and says the regular extradition process must be allowed to take its course.
Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, has denied involvement in the violent coup attempt that left more than 270 people dead.
“If (the United States) does not return him, it will have sacrificed Turkey to a terrorist,” Bozdag said. “The United States is a great state and I believe will do what is expected from a great state.”
The government has launched a sweeping crackdown targeting Gulen’s followers in the aftermath of the coup.
Bozdag said Turkey has formally arrested 16,000 suspects pending trial over the attempted coup, with 6,000 others still being questioned. At least 7,668 other people were under investigation but were not detained, he said.
In addition, tens of thousands of people with suspected links to Gulen have been suspended or dismissed from their jobs in the judiciary, media, education, health care, military and local government.
European nations and human rights groups have expressed alarm over the scope of Turkey’s crackdown, triggering anger from Turkish officials who have complained of a lack of support for Turkey over the failed coup.