The Pan European body, EU, has hinted that the network of U.S.-based
Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen is not a terrorist
organization and would need to see “substantive” evidence to change
its stance, the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator said.
The comments by Gilles de Kerchove are likely to infuriate Ankara,
which accuses Gulen of masterminding a failed military coup last year,
in which more than 250 people were killed. Gulen has denied the charge
and condemned the coup.
Turkey has long accused its NATO allies, including the United States
and Germany, of failing to condemn the abortive putsch strongly
enough, saying they appeared more concerned by Ankara’s ensuing
crackdown on suspected supporters of the coup.
“As for FETO, we don’t see it as a terrorist organization, and I don’t
believe the EU is likely to change its position soon,” Kerchove said,
using the Turkish government’s acronym for Gulen’s network.
“You need not only circumstantial evidence – like just downloading an
app- but concrete substantive data which shows that they were
involved,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Turkish authorities have detained some 50,000 people, including
teachers, police officers, journalists and U.S. consular staff for
alleged links to Gulen’s network. Some 150,000 people have been sacked
or suspended from their jobs.
Some have been detained for having downloaded ByLock, a messaging
appovernment says was used by the coup plotters. Others have been
detained for having had telephone calls with ByLock users.
Human rights groups and some EU officials accused Erdogan of using the
crackdown to muzzle dissent in Turkey, a charge Ankara denies. It says
the scale of the clampdown is justified because the Gulen network
threatens national security.
Gulen was once an ally of Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party and
his movement ran schools, banks and media outlets in Turkey until the
two men had a public falling-out in 2013.
Germany’s BND spy agency has said it is not convinced that Gulen was
behind the failed coup, in which rogue soldiers used tanks and
helicopters to attack Turkey’s parliament and other key targets.
Turkey has also sought, so far unsuccessfully, Gulen’s extradition
from the United States, where the cleric has lived in self-imposed
exile since 1999.
U.S. officials say their courts require sufficient evidence to order
As of July, Turkey had supplied 84 boxes of documents to the United
States for evidence, Ankara’s envoy to Washington has said, although
he has acknowledged that more concrete evidence of Gulen’s direct
involvement has remained elusive.
Germany, which has sharply criticized the mass arrests in Turkey, has
refused to extradite people Ankara says were involved in the plot or
linked to Gulen’s network.
“The decision on extradition is in the hands of all member states, and
most of the time the judiciary, the independent judiciary, and they
need hard evidence,” Kerchove said.