Meet the man Turkey is blaming for the military coup


He is in his mid-70s and has lived as a recluse in the USA for more than 15 years - but the Turkish government is still seeking to pin the blame for the attempted military coup on exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Gulen, who lives in a religious compound in Pennsylvania, has denied all knowledge of the plot, saying he only knows a small number of his supporters in Turkey and cannot speak of their involvement in the uprising that led to the deaths of more than 250 people on Friday night.

Gulen has been previously charged with attempting to overthrow the state in Turkey.
Gulen has been previously charged with attempting to overthrow the state in Turkey (Selahattin Sevi/AP/PA)

Following a demand from Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the US to extradite him, Gulen told reporters: "You can think about many motivations of people who staged this coup. They could be sympathisers of the opposition party. They could be sympathisers of the nationalist party. It could be anything."

The cleric is known for criticising Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian rule in Turkey and the president's regime has launched an international campaign against his movement - purging civil servants, seizing businesses and closing media organisations suspected of having ties to it.

But on Saturday, Gulen tweeted that he did not condone the attempted coup. Translated, his message read: "Gulen condemns strongly the coup attempt".

US secretary of state John Kerry said, while the Obama administration would consider an extradition request, Turkey would have to prove his wrongdoing.

As the conflict in Ankara and Istanbul - in which 104 "coup plotters" died - eased on Saturday, Gulen continued to denounce Erdogan's "repression and persecution" of his followers, saying: "It appears that they have no tolerance for any movement, any group, any organisation that is not under their total control."

The US government will not hand Gulen over easily.
The US government will not hand Gulen over easily (Alex Brandon/AP/PA)

He added: "If I were to send him (Erdogan) a message, he would probably consider it as a slur and reject it. But I have always prayed for myself and for him. I have prayed to God to lead us to the straight path, to the virtuous path."

But he also said he himself that he would not have returned to Turkey even if the coup had succeeded, fearing he would be "persecuted and harassed".

"This is a tranquil and clean place and I enjoy and I live my freedom here. Longing for my homeland burns in my heart, but freedom is also equally important," said Gulen of his American home - the Golden Generation Worship & Retreat Centre in Saylorsburg, an Islamic retreat founded by Turkish-Americans.

Gulen's workspace at the retreat.
Gulen's workspace at the retreat (Michael Rubinkam/AP/PA)

His philosophy blends a mystical form of Islam with staunch advocacy of democracy, education, science and inter-faith dialogue.

His followers have opened 150 publicly-funded charter schools in the US, which the Turkish government has tried to bring down with the help of a hired lawyer. But nobody involved with the schools has had any successful charge brought against them.

Government forces have threatened severe punishments for those involved in bringing about the coup. It has so far arrested 2,839 officers from the air force, military police and armoured units accused of supporting the uprising and has reportedly dismissed 2,745 judges across the country.