Turkish PM Vows to 'Dig' Gulen Allies 'Up by Their Roots' Following Failed Coup

The U.S.-based cleric has denied any involvement in the coup bid, suggesting Erdogan staged it as an excuse for a crackdown.

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Turkish Prime Minister and the leader of Turkey's ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Binali Yildirim speaks during the AK Party's group meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM) in Ankara, on July 19, 2016.
Turkish Prime Minister and the leader of Turkey's ruling party Binali Yildirim speaks during the AK Party's group meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara, on July 19, 2016.Credit: Adem Altan/AFP
Ercan Gurses, Ayla Jean Yackley

REUTERS – Turkey vowed to root out allies of the U.S.-based cleric it blames for an abortive coup last week, after an already deep purge of the army, police and judiciary, and said on Tuesday it had sent Washington evidence of his wrongdoing. 

President Tayyip Erdogan and the government accuse Fethullah Gulen of orchestrating a failed military takeover on Friday in which at least 232 people were killed, and have called in speeches for his extradition from the United States. 

Gulen has denied any involvement in the coup bid, suggesting Erdogan staged it as an excuse for a crackdown. 

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim accused Washington, which said it will only consider extradition if clear evidence is provided, of double standards in its fight against terrorism. 

Yildirim said the justice ministry had sent a dossier to U.S. authorities on

Gulen, a former Erdogan ally whose religious movement blends conservative, Islamic values with a pro-Western outlook and who has a network of supporters within Turkey. 

Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen speaks to members of the media at his compound in Saylorsburg, Pa., Sunday, July 17, 2016.Credit: Chris Post/AP

"We have more than enough evidence, more than you could ask for, on Gulen," Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told reporters outside parliament.

"There is no need to prove the coup attempt, all evidence shows that the coup attempt was organized on his will and orders." 

The broad crackdown and calls to reinstate the death penalty for plotters have drawn appeals from Western allies for Ankara to uphold the rule of law in the country, a NATO member bordering the chaos of Syria whose cooperation in the fight against Islamic State is crucial to Washington. 

Ankara says followers of Gulen, who lives on a compound in the Pocono mountains of rural Pennsylvania, have infiltrated Turkey's institutions and are running a "parallel state". 

Western leaders have expressed solidarity with the government over the coup attempt but also alarm at the sweeping response, urging Turkey, where tensions are running high after the coup bid, to adhere to democratic values. 

Seeking to quash any suggestion of lingering instability, the army said it had resumed full control and Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus denied reports 14 naval vessels were missing and their commanders were seeking to defect. 

"Dig up their roots"

The Turkish government had no information about the coup attempt until it was well under way, Kurtulmus said, appearing to contradict a previous statement from the military leadership. 

Earlier, the army General Staff said it had first received intelligence at 4 p.m. local time that a coup had begun and had alerted the relevant authorities. That was more than six hours before soldiers blocked two bridges in Istanbul and gunfire was heard in the capital Ankara. 

Kurtulmus also told reporters 9,322 people were under legal proceedings in relation to the attempted coup. 

Authorities suspended or detained close to 20,000 soldiers, police, judges and civil servants. The dismissals included 257 people from the prime minister's office, 492 from the Religious Affairs Directorate and 100 intelligence officials. 

Eight soldiers have sought asylum in neighboring Greece and Turkey says they must be handed back or it will not help relations between the neighbors, which have long been uneasy. 

Members of Turkey's armed forces escorted by police for suspected involvement in Friday's attempted coup at the court house in Mugla, Turkey, July 17, 2016. Credit: Tolga Adanali, AP

In a defiant speech in parliament, Yildirim said the fact civilians had been targeted in the attempted power grab by a faction in the military made it unprecedented in the history of Turkey, which last saw a violent coup more than 30 years ago. 

"I'm sorry but this parallel terrorist organization will no longer be an effective pawn for any country," Yildirim said. 

"We will dig them up by their roots so that no clandestine terrorist organization will have the nerve to betray our blessed people again." 

Around 1,400 people were wounded as soldiers commandeered tanks, attack helicopters and warplanes in their bid to seize power, strafing parliament and the intelligence headquarters and trying to seize the main airport and bridges in Istanbul. 

In one dramatic moment, the government says rebel pilots had Erdogan's private jet in their sights but did not fire. 

The army general staff said it would punish "in the most severe way" any members of the armed forces responsible for what it called "this disgrace", adding that most had nothing to do with the coup. 

Some Western leaders expressed concern that Erdogan, who said he was almost killed or captured by the mutineers, was using the opportunity to consolidate power and further a process of stifling dissent. 

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, voiced "serious alarm" on Tuesday at the mass suspension of judges and prosecutors and urged Turkey to allow independent monitors to visit those who have been detained. 

The foreign ministry has said criticism of the government's response amounts to backing the coup. 

Death penalty centre stage

Yildirim said Turkey would respect the rule of law and not be driven by revenge in prosecuting suspected coup plotters. Speaking alongside the leader of the main secularist opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), he said the country must avoid the risk that some people try to exploit the current situation. 

"We need unity ... and brotherhood now," he said. 

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a right-wing grouping and the smallest of the three opposition parties represented in parliament, said it would back the government if it decides to restore the death penalty. 

Turkey scrapped capital punishment in 2004 as part of its push to join the European Union, and European leaders have warned Ankara that restoring it would derail its EU aspirations. 

More than 6,000 soldiers and around 1,500 others have been detained since the abortive coup. Some 8,000 police officers, including in the capital Ankara and the biggest city Istanbul, have been removed on suspicion of links to the plot. 

Two of the arrested soldiers were pilots who shot down a Russian fighter plane near the border with Syria last November, an incident which sparked a diplomatic row with Moscow, a senior Turkish official said. 

A police officer protects pro-coup Turkish soldiers who surrendered on July 16th having occupied the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul, TurkeyCredit: Reuters

Some 1,500 finance ministry officials have also been removed from their posts. Annual leave has been suspended for more than three million civil servants, while close to 3,000 judges and prosecutors have also been purged. A court remanded 26 generals and admirals in custody on Monday, Turkish media said. 

Officials in Ankara say former air force chief Akin Ozturk, who has appeared in detention with his face and arms bruised and one ear bandaged, was a co-leader of the coup. Turkish media said on Monday he had denied this to prosecutors, saying he had tried to prevent the attempted putsch. 

Yildirim said Turkey needed to ensure "100 percent security" of the whole country. The government would announce important decisions on Wednesday to rescue the country.  

Erdogan: I woukd have been killed

The coup crumbled after Erdogan, on holiday with his family at the coastal resort of Marmaris, phoned in to a television news program and called for his followers to take to the streets. He was able to fly into Istanbul in the early hours of Saturday, after the rebel pilots had his plane in their sights but did not shoot it down. 

He said on Monday that he might have died if he had left Marmaris any later. "Two of my close bodyguards were martyred, they were killed," he told CNN in an interview. "Had I stayed 10 or 15 additional minutes there, I would have been killed or I would have been taken." 

He repeated his call that parliament must consider his supporters' demands to apply the death penalty for the plotters. 

"The people have the opinion that these terrorists should be killed," he said. "Why should I keep them and feed them in prisons for years to come, that's what the people say." 

The bloodshed shocked the nation of almost 80 million, where the army last used force to stage a successful coup more than 30 years ago, and shattered fragile confidence in the stability of a NATO member state already rocked by Islamic State suicide bombings and an insurgency by Kurdish militants. 

Since the coup was put down, Erdogan has said enemies of the state still threatened the nation and has urged Turks to take to the streets every night until Friday to show support for the government. Thousands took to squares in Turkey's three biggest cities on Monday, the third day in a row.

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