Turkish PM: coup suspects’ testimony points to Gülen’s involvement

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Turkey’s prime minister has said that testimony from suspects detained in the aftermath of the attempted coup has pointed to the direct involvement of Fethullah Gülen, an exiled cleric based in Pennsylvania.

Binali Yıldırım said the Turkish government had not yet requested Gülen’s extradition, but would do so once the investigation was complete, with the expectation that Washington would comply with the request, hinting that the strategic alliance between the two countries could suffer if it did not.

“Turkey and the US have had friendly, amicable relations, allies and strategic partners for a very long time, and we do not believe that they are going to stand by the leader of this terrorist organisation,” Yıldırım said.

“Of course, since the leader of this terrorist organisation is residing in the United States there are question marks in the minds of the people whether there is any US involvement or backing,” he said in an interview with the Guardian, taking care to note that Washington was not involved in the coup attempt. “So America from this point on should really think how they will continue to cooperate with Turkey, which is a strategic ally for them in the region and world.”

Turkey, a Nato member, last year agreed to allow the US to use its Incirlik airbase in the south-east of the country for bombing missions against the Islamic State terror group over the border in Syria.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, has said the US would consider an extradition request for Gülen if Turkey could supply “legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny”. Turkey has so far provided limited public evidence on the role of Gülen and his Hizmet organisation, but Yıldırım said it would make its case to Washington in a formal extradition request.

“The files pertaining to their involvement in this coup attempt have not been sent yet. They will be sent and will leave no doubt whatsoever as to their involvement in this.”

During the attempted coup, military personnel commandeered fighter jets, tanks and attack helicopters in an attempt to overthrow the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his government. More than 200 people were killed and thousands wounded, with attacks by the coup plotters against the parliament, police headquarters and the national intelligence building.

Rebel troops seized the state TV network and announced they had intervened to restore democracy but were ultimately pushed back after Erdoğan called on the people to take to the streets and resist. Gülen – a former ally of Erdoğan – has vehemently denied any involvement.

Yildirim claimed that the testimony of coup organisers who have been detained as well as members of the senior command who were taken hostage pointed to the cleric’s central role.

He alleged that Gen Hulusi Akar, the chief of staff who was taken hostage during the coup, was offered a direct conversation with Gülen in an effort to convince him to lead the coup attempt.

“After having defeated this attack there were people who were taken into custody, people in soldiers’ uniforms, and they started immediately speaking out and confessing about what was happening. They were singing like humming birds, as we say in Turkish,” Yıldırım said.

“From the initial statements we understood this was a coup attempt they were plotting for a very long time and they were going step by step taking relevant measures […] when they kidnapped and took hostage the general chief of staff, they said to him that they could call the leader of this terrorist organisation, Fethullah Gülen, and arrange a telephone conversation with him so he can also join their movement.”

Since the defeat of the coup, the Turkish government has declared a state of emergency, partially withdrawing from the European convention on human rights and extending detention times. It has also ordered a purge of military, police, bureaucratic and academic institutions, resulting in thousands detained and tens of thousands fired or suspended from their jobs over suspected links to the Gülenist movement.

Many schools and educational institutes as well as media organisations accused of links to the group have also been shut down. Critics have accused Erdoğan of seeking to consolidate his power in the aftermath of the coup attempt.

Yıldırım said Turkey would take “proportional measures” against the perpetrators of the coup and rejected criticisms over the scale of the response. “These people [responsible for the coup attempt] have been given uniforms and ranks and within those uniforms they are acting like terrorists, acting against citizens, they are killing them, bombing critical buildings like the parliament and prime ministry and presidential offices.

“What should we actually do to them? Should we tell them ‘OK, yes, you’re doing well, welcome’? Should we just tell them ‘you shouldn’t have done it’? Should this be the attitude? What are those people who are criticising our country expecting us to do?”

Yıldırım was in Istanbul when the coup attempt began, passing through the Bosphorus bridge 10 or 15 minutes before it was closed down by military officers, and after speaking with the governors of Ankara and Istanbul he decided to announce that a coup attempt was under way, which he did on a private television channel.

He said he conferred with Erdoğan, who was still in the holiday resort of Marmaris, soon afterwards and they agreed they had to call on citizens to come out on to the streets. He said this was the main reason the coup failed. “We concluded this was a coup attempt against the nation itself, and we decided to call upon the nation to own their future and their country,” he said.

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