Turkey asked Washington to detain Fethullah Gulen, a US-based cleric it blames for a failed coup in July, marking the first step in a legal battle to extradite Mr Gulen.
The provisional arrest warrant was requested by Turkey’s Justice Ministry, said Anadolu, a semi-official news wire, citing unidentified sources. A Justice Ministry official declined to comment, citing the sensitivity of the issue. Turkey has said it has credible evidence linking Mr Gulen and his followers to the putsch, which killed nearly 250 people. Mr Gulen denies any role in the coup.
Mr Gulen’s extradition from a farm in Pennsylvania, where he has lived in self-imposed exile since the late 1990s, has become the core issue in the relationship between the two Nato allies, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan bristling at the US’s demand for more evidence.
Talks over Mr Gulen’s status overshadowed a recent G20 meeting between Mr Erdogan and US President Barack Obama, even as the US and Turkey continued to co-operate on a military push into northern Syria.
The US has sent extradition experts to Turkey to guide the process, and has “more lawyers working on this case than any other extradition in recent history”, said Vice-president Joseph Biden during his visit to Turkey late last month. “I know of no other case where as much time is being spent to make sure we find enough data to meet a court standing.”
The request for the warrant, though, is the first time Turkey has made any formal attempts to have Mr Gulen extradited in spite of a very public falling-out between him and Mr Erdogan, who once counted Mr Gulen among his allies.
In late 2013 Mr Erdogan blamed followers of Mr Gulen for manufacturing evidence that showed him and his closest advisers involved in large-scale corruption. Instead of seeking his extradition, Mr Erdogan launched a purge of police and judicial official, replacing judges, prosecutors and police investigators.
Turkish government officials allege that Mr Gulen’s followers went on to deepen their infiltration of the military, making the July 15 coup attempt possible. The failure of that coup has resulted in a purge that has claimed upwards of 100,000 jobs in the military, media, schools, universities and police, while several thousand are either still being detained or arrested.
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