A delegation with the US Department of Justice has arrived in Ankara to hold talks over Turkey’s request for extradition of a Muslim leader accused of masterminding a coup attempt last month, according to two senior Turkish officials.
The development marks the first concrete and public sign of progress in Turkey’s efforts to get self-exiled Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based Turkish-born religious leader and businessman, returned to the country.
Turkey says that Gulen’s supporters within the army carried out the failed coup of July 15, claiming that they have been running “a parallel state” within the civilian and military bureaucracy, and following their own agenda. Gulen denies the claims.
Both officials told Al Jazeera that the US delegation would hold technical meetings with their counterparts in the Turkish Ministry of Justice and discuss the evidence presented to the US on Gulen’s involvement in the attempted coup and other illegal activities.
The delegation arrived in Ankara on August 22 and meetings are scheduled for August 23 and 24.
Gulen has had court cases pending against him for several years and Turkey has been demanding his extradition well before the failed coup.
Following the July 15 incident, more court cases have been opened targeting him.
“We would like Gulen to be returned to Turkish justice, considering all the legal proceedings against him and the extradition treaty between Turkey and the US. We see any step towards this goal positively,” a senior Turkish official told Al Jazeera.
Yasin Aktay, the deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party, told Al Jazeera that during the meetings, the US delegation was expected to seek clarifications on the evidence presented by Turkey to the US concerning Gulen’s network.
“It is bizarre for us that they [the US] have not been convinced, considering the scope of evidence we presented to them. Even this meeting should not have been necessary,” Aktay said.
“The testimony of the suspects who were arrested red-handed and documents we gave them are clear. If you add the statements of Gulen regarding the goal of his organisational movement, we believe there is nothing to question. Strong American intelligence should be well aware of who he really is.
“The reluctance of Washington to return Gulen is perceived in Turkey as an effort to protect him, supporting the view that there are no terrorists, but only allies for the US.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other high level officials have appealed to the US for the return of Gulen numerous times.
Erdogan adopted an angry tone towards Turkey’s ally various times, saying that the US “had to choose between Turkey and Gulen”.
Rebel soldiers bombed state buildings, including the parliament and the presidential palace, during the coup attempt, killing civilians and security forces.
At least 290 people, including the plotters, were killed during the events of July 15..
Tens of thousands of civilian and military state employees were sacked or detained following the incident in efforts to get rid of the followers of Gulen, seen as a terrorist organisation in Turkey.
Police have also raided allegedly Gulen-linked businesses and media networks across the country and arrested various suspects allegedly linked to these organisations.