Turkish Justice Minister: Fethullah Gulen Is Our Osama bin Laden

PHOTO: U.S. based cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, July 29, 2016. PlayCharles Mostoller/Reuters
WATCH White House Responds to Turkish Request for Gulen Extradition

Turkey's justice minister said today his government is determined to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish cleric residing in Pennsylvania whom the government blames for orchestrating a failed military coup in July.

“Just imagine that there was an assassination attempt on President Obama and his family, where the White House was bombed ... tanks were marching the streets ... 241 U.S. civilians were killed and around 3,000 were wounded. Just imagine that scenario," the Honorable Bekir Bozdag said. "Just imagine that the manager and the perpetrator of all this was residing in Turkey. What would the American people think about such a situation?”

The Gulen movement is designated as a terrorist organization inside Turkey and today Bozdag equated the group’s leader to Osama bin Laden. “Whatever Osama bin Laden means for the United States and the American people, Fethullah Gulen means the same for Turkey and the Turkish people.”

Bozdag appeared frustrated as he spoke with members of the press -- for almost two hours with translation -- at the Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C., this morning, declaring outright that the prolonged extradition process is “negatively” affecting U.S.-Turkish relations.

Bozdag met in D.C. on Wednesday with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch -- and a readout of the meeting provided by the Department of Justice hinted at the biggest hurdle in this process: evidence. In order to extradite Gulen, Turkey “must meet the evidentiary standards of the requested country,” the readout said, suggesting that Turkey had yet to do that.

But Bozdag said Turkey presented new evidence to Lynch on Wednesday. He spoke specifically about an alleged confession to Turkish investigators that wiretaps of senior government officials were being transmitted to Gulen in Pennsylvania.

When Bozdag was asked about the crackdown inside Turkey following the coup, he said the government “purge” or “cleansing” of the opposition is not necessarily over. He said that no journalists inside Turkey are being arrested simply for doing their jobs. Some of them are in prison for committing murder, he said, mentioning one man who is being detained for bombing a police station.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey has closed more than 100 news outlets since the coup and has raided and shut the offices of two newspapers, and detained over 100 journalists and media workers.

Bozdag also denied allegations that prisoners are being tortured, saying their lawyers are welcome to make those claims publicly.

Gulen has led a mostly reclusive life in the U.S., where he's based at the Golden Generation Worship and Retreat Center, a compound located in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania. He has denied any involvement in the attempted coup and blamed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, suggesting that it could have been “staged” by the government.

Bozdag was firm that this diplomatic rift will not get in the way of the U.S. and Turkish alliance against ISIS. But it’s clear, months after the attempted coup, Turkey has not forgotten about Gulen.