Gülen admits meeting key suspect in Turkey coup plot, denies coup involvement

Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic cleric who has been living in the United States in a self-imposed exile since 1999, has become the arch-enemy of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since 2013

Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen has admitted meeting Adil Öksüz, who is accused by the Turkish government of  being the key  figure in Turkey’s July 2016 attempted coup, but he said that a mere visit from one of his followers isn’t proof he orchestrated the failed coup.

Gülen’s remarks came during an exclusive interview with France 24, an international news channel based in Paris. The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, inspired by the views of Gülen, of masterminding the failed putsch, a claim strongly denied by Gülen and his movement. One of the main evidences cited by the Turkish government for Gülen’s alleged involvement in the coup is Öksüz who is accused of being the head of the Gülen movement’s alleged network within the Turkish air force. He was briefly detained after the coup attempt and is still at large.

The government claims that before the July 2016 coup attempt, Öksüz travelled to the US, where he visited Gülen. Photographs of Öksüz and his child with Gülen at the Golden Generation Retreat and Recreation Center Pennsylvania where Gülen has been living since 1999, have appeared in the Turkish press as proof of his personal involvement in the putsch bid.

During the interview with France 24, Gülen acknowledged the Turkish government’s account that Öksüz had visited the Golden Generation Retreat and Recreation Center before the July 2016 coup bid, however, he dismissed allegations that the visit constituted the smoking gun in the coup investigation.

“A few years ago, he [Öksüz] came here once. I later saw in the media this picture with his child with me. This is something hundreds of people do. From taking a picture to making that kind of connection would be jumping to conclusions,” Gülen said.

Gülen acknowledged that around 30 years ago, when Öksüz was a student, he was part of a study circle within the movement. “Adil Öksüz, at one time, I think when he was studying at school, he became part of our study circle,” he said.

Gülen went on to list a number of senior members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) who had visited him in Pennsylvania before the July 2016 coup bid who included former Turkish president, Abdullah Gül, and Hakan Fidan, current head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

Fethullah Gülen proceeded to repeat allegations, circulating in some opposition circles, that Öksüz was linked to the Turkish intelligence services.

“Indeed former president Abdullah Gül visited me – before he became president or prime minister or something,” said Gülen. “When you consider Adil Öksüz, they found him somewhere, I don’t remember where it was, and then they released him, and then there turned out be a tie between him and Turkish intelligence. The chief of the intelligence service, Hakan Fidan, also visited here twice and he ate at my nephew’s house here twice. Everyone came here. There are photos of me with everyone. So, to make claims based on visiting me and taking pictures with me is just senseless.”

Öksüz’s alleged links to Turkish intelligence services have not been officially confirmed. The government says he was arrested at Akıncı Air Base in the early hours of July 16, 2016 and later appeared before a judge, who released Öksüz since the prosecution failed to supply incriminating evidence in the confused, immediate aftermath of the coup. Faced with no evidence, the judge ordered his release. Öksüz has since disappeared without a trace and Turkish security services are seeking him, the government says.

When asked about the future of the Gülen movement, which has come under immense pressure from the Turkish government following the failed coup attempt, Gülen said he believes his movement’s days are not over.

“In 170 countries, our movement’s schools are still operating, including in the US, Brussels, Europe,” he said. “So I think this is a sign that this movement, whose core value is love, will continue. The politicians, their time is limited. They will go by democratic means. But this movement, which is anchored in love, will continue.”

To another question asking if he fears the warming personal relations between US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Erdoğan, could mean a fast-tracked extradition, Gülen replied, “I don’t think either him [Trump] or any other US president will risk tarnishing the reputation of the United States around the world and submit to these unreasonable demands by the Turkish president. So I’m not worried about that possibility.” (turkishminute.com) July 19, 2017

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