Representatives of both countries are expected to discuss the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, the businessman and cleric accused of many crimes and also the mastermind behind the failed coup in 2016.
A US delegation landed in Ankara on Thursday to discuss developments in their investigation into Pennsylvania-based Fetullah Gulen, the man behind the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.
The US delegation, which includes FBI officials, will hold talks with representatives from Turkey’s foreign, justice and interior ministries. The talks are expected to last two days, leaving some hopeful the US will agree to extradite Gulen.
Turkey first demanded the extradition of Gulen four days after the failed putsch which claimed the lives of 251 people and injured nearly 2,200 others. Ankara had officially listed Gulen's organisation a terror group in May 2016, just weeks before the failed coup.
Between July 15, 2016, when the coup attempt took place, and April 2018, the government identified thousands of Gulen supporters who had infiltrated various state institutions and either fired or arrested them.
Turkey’s extradition request called for Gulen’s arrest on the grounds that he masterminded the coup, with charges including founding an armed terror organisation, first-degree murder, and the attempt to assassinate the Turkish president, dissolve parliament and abolish the Turkish Republic.
There have been many official discussions between Turkey and the US and Ankara has shared files and documents which it says prove the coup was orchestrated by Gulen’s terror group, the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO).
The case against FETO
Ankara says it has further evidence that Gulen and his inner circle were behind the failed putsch and will share phone records of several people that the group refers to as imams, who are leaders of different branches of FETO.
Adil Oksuz, Kemal Batmaz, Hakan Cicek, Harun Binis, and Nurettin Oruc are part of this inner circle, according to Ankara’s public prosecutor’s office. On July 15, 2016, Oksuz and Cicek were reportedly spotted at Ankara’s Akinci air base, which the coup plotters used as their headquarters.
According to Ankara’s phone records, the FETO imams held preparatory meetings with Gulen in his residence in Pennsylvania during their visits in January, March and June of 2016, discussing the groundwork for the July 15 coup attempt.
The Gulen case has continued to be a source of diplomatic tension between the two NATO allies.
Up until Donald Trump’s presidency, US authorities refused to extradite Gulen. Washington said the evidence provided by Turkey was not strong enough for the US Department of Justice to process his expulsion.
Relations went through a particularly difficult moment in 2018 when the Trump administration imposed a trade embargo on Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan framed the currency crisis as a campaign against his country; in response some Turks took to selling the dollar and buying the lira to support the currency.
Trump, however, was also keen to secure the release of a US pastor arrested and detained in Turkey.
Andrew Craig Brunson had been under arrest since December 2016 and under house arrest since July 2018. He was arrested on charges of espionage and for his links to another terror organisation, the PKK, as well as FETO.
In late September, President Erdogan called on the US to extradite Gulen again and proposed a swap.
A Turkish court ruled to release the pastor a month later, after some of the key witnesses changed their testimony.
US network NBC reported on November 15 that the state department had been examining legal means to extradite Gulen.
The report suggested that the extradition was being discussed to "ease" Ankara’s pressure on another US ally, Riyadh, over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump has denied promising Gulen’s extradition.
What exactly is FETO?
Gulen established his movement in the early 1970s. He is said to have built his ideology initially around the work of Said Nursi, an Islamic scholar with whom he later parted ways.
Gulen later started to describe himself as enlightened and pro-Western by suggesting a reportedly moderate version of Islam.
Under Gulen, FETO set up educational institutions, private companies, banks, media outlets and civil associations.
Ankara has repeatedly said that members of the group try to infiltrate public institutions of Turkey, especially the military, intelligence agencies and judiciary.
Gulen had also been investigated in 55 different criminal indictments before July 15, 2016.