Turkey has continued to pile up pressure on countries around the world to shut down or hand over control of schools linked to Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO). The US-based 76-year-old cleric, Fethullah Gulen was accused of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey that left 250 people dead and 2,200 injured.
Also, the influential cleric runs FETO and has built a financial empire in Turkey that included banks, media, construction companies and schools. He is reported to have 3 million to 6 million followers in Turkey, including high-ranking government and military officials.
The schools began expanding internationally in 1993, and at one point there were Gulen-linked schools, cultural centers or language programs in more than 100 countries. In the United States, it’s the largest group of so-called charter schools, which receive tax funds. It has about 140 schools in 28 states, taking in more than $2.1 billion from taxpayers.
In Africa, FETO has a lot of schools and other investments worth billions US dollars. In Nigeria, a document released by the Turkish embassy, listed the indicted schools and institutions as Surat Educational Limited, Abuja; Nigerian-Turkish International School, in Abuja, Kaduna, Kano, Yobe, Ogun and Lagos; and the Nigerian-Turkish Nile University, Abuja.
Others, according to the embassy, are The Association of Businessmen and Investors of Nigeria and Turkey/Abinat, Abuja and Lagos; Ufuk Dialogue Foundation, Abuja; Nigerian-Turkish Nizamiye Hospital, Abuja; and Vefa Travel Agency, Abuja.
Recently, President of Turkey, Recep Erdogan, advised parents in Nigeria and other countries in Africa to withdraw their children from Turkish-run schools across the continent because the schools are run by those he described as terrorists.
In an exclusive interview with AllAfrica.com prior to his three-country official visit to Sudan, Chad and Tunisia, Mr. Erdogan said the schools are run by an organisation that uses education as a façade to hide their real intent.
According to him, the schools are linked to United States based Cleric, Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Mr Erdogan turn arch-rival.
Erdogan said “Without any further ado, I will like to mention something. Whether your nephews, nieces and your children, do not send them to either one of these network schools.
“Education is just a disguise for the terrorists working for these organisations, even religion is a disguise for the Fethullahists. In the Quran, Allah condemned those who are using prayers as disguised as they will never be conscientious to the practice of prayer that is why we would remain alert. We would never be manipulated. The coup plotters are the Fethullahists.
“They have all been identified and some of them have been sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment. These Fethullahists came to kill me and my family members but Allah protected us and in a matter of minutes we were saved from their bombs, their attacks but two of my security guarded were killed… there are 29 martyrs around the presidential complex which was attacked that night as well.
“We are warning all our brothers in Africa not to be deceived because the Fethullahists have great sums of money out of their actions. In 1999, the Chief terrorist, fled to the United States to live in Pennsylvania. We have demanded his extradition immediately.
“The Turkish government has established an education foundation to take control of the schools linked with Mr. Gulen. Many African countries, including Nigeria have, however, turned down Mr. Erdogan’s requests to either take control or close schools linked to Mr Gulen.
“Soon after the attempted coup, the Turkish Ambassador to Nigeria, Hakan Cakil, called on the Nigerian government to close 17 Turkish schools. His request was however turned down by the government.”
However, a Turkish state-run education foundation has taken over control of schools in Chad that once belonged to FETO.
Turkey’s Maarif Foundation (TMF) took over the institutions in line with a protocol signed between the Turkish and Chadian governments recently. Among these institutions are a kindergarten, a primary school, two secondary schools, two high schools, and a dormitory.
The institutions will continue operating with administrators and teachers sent by Maarif. President Erdogan said in Ankara that Turkey was determined to clear Africa of FETO, saying that FETO fooled people through “sham” education and aid services.
The Maarif Foundation has recently assumed control of numerous schools previously run by FETO around the world, including 32 in Africa, according to Turkey’s National Education Ministry.
Also, TMF is working round the clock to be in charge of schools once run by FETO in Nigeria, as it visited the country last year to establish its presence.
A member of the Board of Trustees of the Turkish Maarif Foundation and Special Adviser to Turkish Prime Minister, Prof. Cahit Bagci, said that TMF is a not-for-profit public body constitutionally authorized to run schools outside Turkey, adding that their visit was to ensure robust relations on education with Nigeria.
Meanwhile, irate President Erdogan said that Turkey would not extradite any suspects to the United States if Washington doesn’t hand over Fethullah Gulen, who allegedly orchestrated a failed 2016 military coup.
Ankara accuses U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen of masterminding the putsch and has repeatedly asked Washington for his extradition. But US officials have said courts require sufficient evidence to extradite the elderly cleric, who has denied any involvement in the coup.
“We have given the United States 12 terrorists so far, but they have not given us back the one we want. They made up excuses from thin air,” Erdogan told local administrators at a conference in his presidential palace in Ankara.
“If you’re not giving him [Gulen] to us, then excuse us, but from now on whenever you ask us for another terrorist, as long as I am in office, you will not get them,” he said.
Gulen, 76, lives in rural Pennsylvania. The influential Sunni Muslim cleric fled Turkey for the U.S. in 1999 and was subsequently granted permanent resident status.
Turkey is the biggest Muslim majority country in NATO and an important U.S. ally in the Middle East.
But Ankara and Washington have been at loggerheads over a wide range of issues in recent months, including a U.S. alliance with Kurdish fighters in Syria and the conviction of a Turkish bank executive in a U.S. sanctions-busting case that included testimony of corruption by senior Turkish officials.