ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s president slammed the United States on Friday, claiming it was not standing firmly against a failed military coup and accused it of harboring the plot’s alleged mastermind, as a government crackdown in the coup’s aftermath strained Turkey’s ties with key allies.
Turkey has demanded the United States extradite Fethullah Gulen, a cleric living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania whom it accuses of being behind the violent July 15 coup attempt that left 290 people dead. It is accusing Western nations of not extending sufficient support to its efforts to counter further threats from followers of the Gulen movement, which it says have infiltrated the country’s state institutions.
Turkey considers Gulen’s movement a terrorist organization. Gulen has denied any prior knowledge of the plot and says his movement espouses interfaith dialogue. The United States has asked Turkey for evidence of his involvement, and said the U.S. extradition process must take its course.
“Instead of thanking this nation that quashed the coup in the name of democracy, on the contrary, you are taking sides with the coup plotters,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an angry speech Friday at a police special forces headquarters in Ankara. The facility was bombed and fired upon during the attempted coup, and 47 police officers were killed.
“The putschist is already in your country,” Erdogan said.
The president also lashed out at an American military official who expressed concern that the failed coup may have longer-term effects on the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.
Gen. Joseph Votel said Thursday the unrest could affect U.S. relations with the Turkish military, noting that some of its leaders have been jailed.
“We’ve certainly had relationships with a lot of Turkish leaders, military leaders in particular. And so I’m concerned about what the impact is on those relationships as we continue to move forward,” Votel said at the Aspen Security Forum.
Erdogan criticized the comment.
“It’s not up to you to make that decision. Who are you? Know your place,” he said, and hinted the United States could be behind the failed plot.
“My people know who is behind this scheme … they know who the superior intelligence behind it is, and with these statements you are revealing yourselves, you are giving yourselves away,” he said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also criticized the comments, saying the jailed officers are “not the only ones with the capacity to fight” the Islamic State group. Speaking to reporters in Ankara, Cavusoglu said the purge of those suspected of being involved in the coup is rendering the Turkish army more efficient.
“When we weed out these bad apples… then our army is more trustworthy, more dynamic, cleaner and more effective,” Cavusoglu said.
The foreign minister said Turkey wanted Gulen’s extradition process to conclude rapidly and has asked the United States to make sure he does not escape to another country.
He also criticized Turkey’s European and Western allies for their stance on the government’s broad crackdown, which has included a purge of the civil service, military, judiciary and education sectors, and the closures of hundreds of schools and dozens of media outlets.
“We are disturbed by our European and Western friends’ approach,” Cavusoglu told reporters. “Very few have given us a clear support against the coup. They started to give us lessons in democracy, to talk down to us, to warn us.”
The European Union and other countries, as well as human rights groups, have voiced increasing concern about the crackdown. According to recent figures from the interior ministry, more than 18,000 people have been detained since the coup attempt. Of those, more than 3,500 have since been released, a senior government official said.
A total of 49,211 people have had their passports revoked, according to the interior minister. The government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with his office’s regulations, said the revocations were a precaution against the flight risk of possible terror suspects.
More than 66,000 people in the wider civil service have been suspended from their jobs.
Ankara says the crackdown targets followers of Gulen and is necessary to prevent a new threat. It has also been seeking to extend its crackdown on the network of schools and institutions abroad connected to his movement.
In Germany, the governor of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said his regional government received a letter from the Turkish consul-general in Stuttgart asking it to check and “reevaluate” organizations, facilities and schools “which in the opinion of the Turkish government are, it says, ‘controlled’ by the Gulen movement.”
“That surprised me greatly,” Winfried Kretschmann told the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “Of course we will not do that.”
Kretschmann said he has seen no evidence to back Turkey’s assertion that the Gulen movement was responsible for the coup attempt or that Islamization is taking place at schools in Germany.
Germany’s foreign minister said it was good that the coup had been foiled “but now the reactions are getting far out of proportion.”
“When tens of thousands of civil servants, teachers and judges are dismissed, thousands of schools and education facilities shut and dozens of journalists arrested without any direct connection with the coup being discernible, we cannot simply stay silent,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier was quoted as saying Friday in the Ruhr Nachrichten paper.
Steinmeier said bringing back the death penalty would be “a major step backward” for Turkey.
Cavusoglu, in an interview with Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung to be published Saturday, raised the possibility of a referendum on reintroducing capital punishment.
This decision should not be taken “in the heat of the moment,” he was quoted as saying. “Perhaps the decision on this will be taken in a referendum. These are very serious questions.”
He argued that officials are getting thousands of tweets and texts saying “‘if you don’t reintroduce the death penalty, we won’t vote for your party anymore.'”
“The EU doesn’t have the right to give us lessons on this matter,” Cavusoglu was quoted as saying.
Separately, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Turkey would shut down an air base in the outskirts of Ankara that the coup plotters used as their headquarters. He said several army barracks used in the attempted coup would be moved away from Ankara and Istanbul to new locations.
Becatoros reported from Istanbul. Lolita Baldor in Washington DC, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Cinar Kiper in Istanbul contributed.