ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s foreign minister said on Saturday he had made clear in a call with U.S. counterpart John Kerry that followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen were behind a coup attempt, but had not directly discussed the cleric’s possible extradition.
A faction of the armed forces, deemed by the government as loyal to Gulen, tried to seize power using tanks and attack helicopters overnight. One hundred and sixty-one people were killed, including many civilians, in the ensuing violence.
“The topic of extradition did not come up directly in our conversation yesterday. However, I said very directly once again that this was an attempt by Gulen, who is residing in their country, and his structure within the military,” Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview in Ankara.
President Tayyip Erdogan officially designated Gulen’s religious movement a terrorist group in May and said he would pursue its members. Turkey has long been expected to request his extradition from the United States.
Cavusoglu said the military now needed to be “cleansed” of Gulenist influence.
“Once this cleansing is finished our military will be stronger, our soldiers will be stronger, providing better support and coordination to NATO,” he said.
He said soldiers at the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey, used by the U.S. military to conduct air strikes against Islamic State militants in neighboring Syria, had been involved in the coup attempt and that arrests had been made.
“Once these operations are completed, we will continue our fight against Daesh (Islamic State) with either coalition nations, or within the NATO framework, and resume our cooperation with NATO,” Cavusoglu said.
The U.S. consulate in Turkey said earlier the authorities were denying movements on and off Incirlik. But Cavusoglu said there would be no problems regarding operations at the base.
“It is not possible to have any negative developments regarding the Incirlik base,” he said.
He also said Turkey’s allies, including Western NATO allies and regional powers Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran, had all shown clear support for Turkey’s elected authorities and come out in condemnation of the coup.
Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Nick Tattersall