Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pa., on Sept. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Selahattin Sevi)

Who is Fethullah Gulen? And why is the US talking about extraditing him to Turkey?

(RNS) — For the past 2½ years, the United States and its NATO ally, Turkey, have been at odds over the fate of Fethullah Gulen, a relatively little-known Muslim cleric living in the mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania.

His followers believe he is a peaceful emissary of interreligious dialogue and secular education. The Turkish government maintains he is a traitor and terrorist, the mastermind behind a July 2016 coup attempt that resulted in the death of 265 Turkish civilians. They want him extradited back to his homeland.

This week, a delegation from the U.S. traveled to Turkey to discuss his fate, according to published reports.

The Turkish government has made Gulen’s extradition one of the central points of its foreign policy. The United States has demurred, claiming that Turkey has not presented sufficient evidence against Gulen to justify extradition proceedings.

Turkish officials welcomed the election of President Donald Trump, in part because they believed they had a better chance of seeing Gulen extradited under his administration.

They may be right.

On Dec. 16, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu seemed to claim victory, stating that at their recent meeting during the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, President Trump told Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the United States was “working on” Turkey’s request that the United States extradite Gulen to Turkey.

On Dec. 18, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the president only said the U.S. would “take a look at it, but nothing committal in that process,” walking back but not completely refuting the Turkish foreign minister’s statement.

Now U.S. officials seem to be holding direct talks with Turkey about Gulen’s possible extradition.

President Trump welcomes Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as he arrives at the entrance to the West Wing of the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 16, 2017. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Complicating matters are Turkey’s ongoing restrictions on religious groups, which caused “the state of religious freedom in Turkey” to worsen, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.  The country landed on USCIRF's tier 2 watch list of countries where religious liberty is restricted.

Gulen’s status as a religious leader, and one with a significant network and following across the United States, raises questions of whether his potential extradition is an issue of religious freedom and what impact his extradition would have on his American followers.

The faith leader initially left Turkey for medical treatment in 1999 and remained in the United States after Turkey accused him — falsely, according to his supporters — of trying to undermine and overthrow the government.

Following the 2002 rise to power of the AKP, the party that still holds power in Turkey today, Gulen’s political fortunes turned. He and members of his movement became political allies of the AKP and Erdogan, who was then prime minister. In 2012 and 2013 the AKP and the Gulen Movement had a falling out, which culminated in what the Turkish government claims was a Gulen-instigated corruption investigation that reached all the way to Erdogan.

Demonstrators hold a plane model with an attached toy, depicting opposition cleric in exile Fethullah Gulen, during the Democracy and Martyrs Rally, organized by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to protest against the failed July 2016 military coup attempt, in Istanbul, Turkey, on Aug. 7, 2016. Photo by Umit Bektas/Reuters

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The investigation was quickly quashed, and Gulen and his followers once again became personae non grata in Turkey. Turkish officials believe Gulen then instigated the failed 2016 coup, though the evidence they have presented publicly is far from conclusive.

The Gulen Movement is a unique hybrid of religion, business and education, but the religious element, derived from the Turkish Nusi school of Sunni Islam, remains the core of the movement.

Organizations connected to the movement are run by his followers and are “inspired” by Gulen but not legally connected to him personally. Because of the informal and opaque structure of the Gulen Movement, there is no way to know the number of Gulen’s followers, but he likely has millions worldwide and thousands here in the United States.

Gulen's status as a religious leader does not automatically mean his case falls within the bounds of religious freedom.

“What makes a religious liberty claim is a government penalizing someone's religiously motivated conduct,” Douglas Laycock, an expert in religious liberty issues and a law professor at the University of Virginia, told Religion News Service.

Since Turkey is not charging Gulen with a religion-related crime, religious liberty considerations do not legally apply.

Even if they did, according to Laycock, it is not clear that the United States is obligated to refuse extradition for people charged with religion-related offenses.

Perhaps surprisingly, organizations connected with and Turkish-Americans sympathetic to the Gulen Movement are largely unfazed by the Turkish government’s statements. They widely believe Gulen is in no danger of extradition.

Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pa., in September 2013. Photo by Selahattin Sevi/Zaman Daily via Cihan News Agency

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Alp Aslandogan, executive director of the Alliance for Shared Values, the organization most closely connected to Gulen in the United States, told RNS that he believes the Turkish foreign minister is bluffing about Gulen’s extradition. He said he is confident in the fairness of the U.S. justice system.

Since Gulen has been removed from public life for years due to ill health, there would be little practical impact to the movement in the U.S. if he were forced to return to Turkey, Aslandogan said.

Joshua Hendrick, professor at Loyola University in Maryland and expert on the Gulen Movement, echoed this assessment.

“The organization operates almost in spite of Fethullah Gulen, and so things would continue full tilt,” Hendrick told RNS.

A Turkish-American in Boston, who has had family detained in Turkey for alleged ties to the Gulen Movement, said he was skeptical about the Turkish government’s claim. He asked that his name not be used out of concern for his family. He pointed out that the day after the Turkish foreign minister made his statement about Gulen’s extradition, the foreign minister falsely claimed that supporters of the Gulen Movement were being detained in the United States by the FBI. Like Aslandogan, he remains confident that the U.S. justice system will protect Turkish-Americans.

Still, the recent decision by the U.S. to withdraw troops from Syria, which reportedly came after President Trump spoke with Erdogan, worried Turkish-Americans who have ties to Gulen. They worry that closer ties between the U.S. and Turkey could lead to his extradition.

Hendricks remains skeptical that Gulen will be extradited.

“It seems to me that the burden of proof is too steep, and Gulen’s rights as a permanent resident too difficult (from a legal perspective) to navigate,” he told RNS in an email.

Nicholas Danforth, an expert on Turkey and senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, summed up the issues at hand succinctly.

Danforth said U.S. courts — and not the Trump administration — will decide whether Gulen will be extradited.

“At the end of the day,” he said, "the U.S. Constitution makes Trump commander-in-chief of the military — not of the judiciary.”


  1. The US should turn him over to the saudi’s; they’ll get it squared away.

  2. No need.

    Just have him visit the Saudi embassy.

  3. Yup. Interesting that the angry dog, spuddie, et al that were just beside themselves have disappeared now that it has been learned that khashoggi was a bit more than an innocent NYT reporter.
    Not that he deserved what he got, but now that you can’t bash trump with it; the story magically disappears.

  4. That he “was a bit more than an innocent NYT reporter” was reported the day he disappeared.

    It’s hard to know what’s going on with your fingers in your ears and blinders on.

  5. They don’t have blinders on – that would imply that it’s not their fault that they don’t see.
    They CHOOSE not to see so they have an excuse to sling mud at trump.

  6. If he is extradited his fate is sealed. The trial will be a sham. With our exit from Syria we will be giving Erdogan the chance to wipe out the Kurds there – our allies and now he wants the US to hand him his bitter enemy.

  7. kurds and the fetollah ayatollah are sore loosers. Instead of fighting isis-turks, they lost vs. erdog and ran to the russians and assad for help.

    No pardon for the looser. Send these isis-preachers to the saudi embassy in Washington D.C.

  8. TRUE OR FALSE: “Fethullah Gulen [is] a relatively little-known Muslim cleric”.

    FALSE: He’s “[well]-known” to at least 4 investigative journalists and their readers everywhere, me included.

    (1) F. William Engdahl (cf. “The CIA, Fetullah Gülen and Turkey’s Failed July 2016 Coup: Behind Turkish Arrest Warrant for Ex CIA Graham Fuller”, Global Research, December 11, 2017).

    (2) Sibel Edmonds (cf. “WikiLeaks, Hillary-Gulen Intimate Ties & How the Clintons Gave Birth to Mullah Gulen’s Terrorist Network”, Newsbud: Where Media Integrity Matters, August 12, 2016).

    (3) James Corbett (cf. “Meet Fethullah Gulen, Deep State Plotter”, The Corbett Report: Open Source Intelligence News, July 27, 2016).

    And (4) Chuck Ross (cf. “Turkey Failed Coup: Ties Emerge Between Hilary Clinton And Mysterious Islamic Cleric Fethullah Gulen”, Global Research, July 18, 2016).

  9. Erdogan’s consolidation of personal power in Turkey is a questionable matter. If Gulen opposed that, he may have been correct to do so.

  10. I checked your sources – the first comes from a Russian funded organization. Global Research republishes stuff from elsewhere – Chuck Ross’ article sourced from the Daily Caller. Ditto the first. The best of the bunch was Newsbud which was deemed mixed in terms of factual reporting.

  11. When Trump said maybe he (Crown Prince) did and maybe he didn’t, but there’s a big arms deal on the table. he became an open target. BTW Khashoggi was a Washington Post reporter at the time of his death.

    And regrettably his death appeared to be a self-fulfillment of a criticism he publicly made against the Saudi government and Crown Prince in not allowing dissenting voices to be heard. But then that would have made Saudi Arabia into a democracy and not a kingdom.

  12. Indeed.


    Among other things the fact that this President has accomplished more in two years than his predecessor did in eight is never mentioned. It’s fueled by media like CNN, and RNS, which are populated by individuals with axes to grind.

    It is, in fact, a cult.

  13. DON’T STOP. NEXT DO THIS. After revealing who they are, “check your sources” & have them verify for you and me that:

    (1) There’s no U.S. Connection between “the CIA, Fetullah Gülen and Turkey’s Failed July 2016 Coup”! There’s nothing damning “Behind Turkish Arrest Warrant for Ex CIA Graham Fuller”!

    (2) “WikiLeaks” is dead wrong about “Hillary-Gulen Intimate Ties & How the Clintons Gave Birth to Mullah Gulen’s Terrorist Network”!

    (3) “Fethullah Gulen” is no “Deep State Plotter”!

    (4) From the “Turkey Failed Coup”, no real “Ties Emerge Between Hilary Clinton And Mysterious Islamic Cleric Fethullah Gulen”!

    Or would you prefer burying your head in the Sands of Mainstream Media?

  14. agree 100%.
    In fact, trump has accomplished more of the conservative agenda than either bush did.
    2 conservative Supreme Court justices.
    83 conservative federal Court judges.
    Tax cut.
    Out of Iran and Paris deals.
    Keystone pipeline and focus on energy independence (and not but 12 century windmills and the sun).
    Ending multiple military engagements.
    Reduction of government regulation.
    And hopefully he will address the illegal immigration issue.
    I understand politics is politics, but I do question the liberals intent to destroy trump; it is being sore losers or do they just not love America?

  15. Khashoggi was an intelligence agent working against the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
    I am no fan of the Saudi’s; but when you play in the sandbox of an undercover intelligence agent, you are playing a high stakes game of poker with your life.
    He wrote for the NYT’s; so what? He was more an intelligence agent than journalist.
    In a rush to again corner trump, the MSM tried to push him into a conflict with one of our only reliable middle eastern allies.
    Trump and the CIA tried to play it off, but the MSM kept pushing.
    Now, that it’s known that khashoggi is/was an intelligence agent – you hear nothing from the MSM.

  16. They do NOT love America.

    The love France, or at least the French approach.

  17. Agree. They talk about the Nordic countries but ignore Venezuela, Russia, China, etc.
    They want free stuff in the name of equality but are to ignorant or full of envy to understand that the trade off for that is individual liberty.

  18. I have no idea whether Gulen is guilty. Thus far Turkey has failed to present enough evidence to convince us to extradite him. Regardless of his guilt or innocence his fate is sealed.

  19. The President seldom gets praise from the opposing press – their focus is on criticizing and second-guessing. That’s true of both parties. What praise did Fox or Breitbart give Obama? In Trump’s case some media outlets have made it personal and have lost objectivity.

  20. Many Americans don’t think those were worthy accomplishments.

  21. The myth of the Third Estate and noble independent press is just that, a myth.

    Whether it is Pravda on the Potomac or Faux News, the axes continue to get ground.

    That makes it rather incumbent on the consumer of news to read multiple sources with different perspectives – and that brings us back to Parker12’s initial observation.

  22. Khashoggi’s death sparked outrage internationally as well. (Including Turkey which was criticized for its response as well – as much as it can be criticized internally. ) SA is the largest buyer of arms from other countries in addition to the US explaining the larger interest in terms of responses by respective governments. And I finally sourced your comment about him being an intelligence agent – which wasn’t 100% as you inferred but according to Arab media, was linked to both CiA and MI-16.

    Trump dropped the ball in his response – deferring and delaying and misconstruing – at least compared to some of the leaders of other countries. Why he did so, who knows. Perhaps he needs coaching to do a more publicly acceptable response. Maybe he needs people with better skills and insights.

    But I would say that MSM coverage really slowed down though with the Senate CiA briefing (Lindsay Graham – not a smoking gun but a smoking saw). bipartisan senate response to incident in terms of action wanted against the Saudis, along with actual US sanctions against the 17 and Saudi actions against the 17 ) and not because he was an ‘intelligence agent’. BTW, I found articles in MSM re Khashoggi as of 2 days ago including an expectation that Trump’s personal financial ties to Saudi Arabia would be looked at by the House so MSM is not silent – just telling the story as it moves along.

  23. Yeah – I know.
    It’s disappointing that some Americans like war, high taxes, being dependent on Arab oil, constricting regulation and desire to change the constitution.
    They should check out Venezuela.

  24. So, khashoggi was an intelligence asset – correct?
    That asset pissed someone off and paid with his life – correct?
    That is the real world and a life he was involved with.
    Whether you like Saudi Arabia or not; they are a US ally. They may not be the “cleanest” ally, but they are still an ally.
    Whether trump or anyone else has financial interests there is not the issue. This is more MSM stupidity.
    The US needs Saudi Arabia and Israel to counter Iran, Syria and Russia.
    Bottom line, my enemy of my enemy is my friend.

  25. As someone with in-depth information on this (i would have been detained had a returned to istanbul in 2015 due to my links) that dictator Erdogan is dog with s bone. Only thing is it’s not even his bone. There are some misinformed errors in the article, through no fault of the journalist, so it is too forgiving for the dictator. I hope for Fethullah’s sake the justice system works.

  26. He may be extradited because Trump loves bullies and dictators. If there is a moral thing and an immoral thing, Trump always goes for the immoral one. He is the incarnation of evil

  27. Yeah, but he didn’t accomplish anything positive.

  28. You claim to be “someone with in-depth information”?! Like this one from “namaqua … 4 months ago … [That] George [Harrison] actually co-wrote Badge [by Cream]. It was supposed to be called Bridge but was not written down properly and became badge”?!


    Stick to Rock N Roll Dude

    And Old Hat at that

    So here’s my challenge to you: Give a critical “in-depth information on this” (critique-wise):

    (1) F. William Engdahl (cf. “The CIA, Fetullah Gülen and Turkey’s Failed July 2016 Coup: Behind Turkish Arrest Warrant for Ex CIA Graham Fuller”, Global Research, December 11, 2017).

    (2) Sibel Edmonds (cf. “WikiLeaks, Hillary-Gulen Intimate Ties & How the Clintons Gave Birth to Mullah Gulen’s Terrorist Network”, Newsbud: Where Media Integrity Matters, August 12, 2016).

    (3) James Corbett (cf. “Meet Fethullah Gulen, Deep State Plotter”, The Corbett Report: Open Source Intelligence News, July 27, 2016).

    And (4) Chuck Ross (cf. “Turkey Failed Coup: Ties Emerge Between Hilary Clinton And Mysterious Islamic Cleric Fethullah Gulen”, Global Research, July 18, 2016).

  29. Bolton is insisting that Turkey agree not to go after our Kurdish allies in Syria after we withdraw. At least we’re showing some loyalty. I wouldn’t trust Turkey, though.

  30. Damn, its hard to find a conflict of death that US ‘senators’ and their corporate pimps aren’t involved in. The repercussions feed on themselves for decades upon decades. They are drowning in the blood of the innocent. Surely there is a hell specifically designed for these global deathmongers. What could be more deserving of eternal torment?

  31. You forgot the /s tag,

    But then again given your constant excuses for atrocious behavior, maybe not.

  32. Nope. Just didn’t see the story. You are making crap up about what I have said on that story. Lying comes natural to you.

    Nope. The Saudis are and always have been complete scumbags. As are people who make excuses for abducting people, torturing an dismembering them.

    “Not that he deserved what he got, but now that you can’t bash trump with it; the story magically disappears.”

    Of course we still can. You are lying here. Trump covered for the Saudi murderers.

  33. None of which are worthy of praise. They point to partisan jockeying, incompetent actions and selling out the public interests.

  34. Because those countries are dictatorships and poor counterexamples.

    If you want to go that route an example of conservative economic policies Zaire seems to be the model. Kleptocratic non-functional government, massive wealth concentrated, a non-existent middle class with massive misery for everyone else.

  35. Most Americans don’t want to give their money to the uppermost wealthy with nothing to show for it, pollution, job losses, and attacks on their civil liberties.

    But you do.

    “They should check out Venezuela.”

    Because your goal is to turn the country into it. A kleptocratic mess with a muddled economy.

  36. Right – 312k jobs added last month.
    Corporate hiring at all time high.
    US troops out of Middle East cess pools.
    More money in people’s pockets.
    Law according to the founding fathers; not social engineers.
    American oil and natural gas.
    Yup. MAGA!!

  37. The Saudis? Not as much as we used to.

    They apparently are running out of oil

    Frankly we never got as much out of the arrangement as they did.

    Our president is a dictator kowtowing weenie who has gotten himself caught between a whizzing match between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. He is trying so hard to appease dictators on both sides at the expense of any kind of diplomatic credibility the US has in the region.

  38. Incorrect on all fronts.

    Tariffs and the 2018 Tax plan are killing jobs nationwide.

    Wages have stagnated and declined in some sectors

    US troops in the Middle East were paltry. Iraq demanded we get out. We are still involved in literally dozens of countries all over the globe.

    More money going to the uppermost wealthy’s pockets at the expense of everyone else. The Tax plan robs the middle and working class to give to the wealthy with nothing to show for it.

    “Law according to the founding fathers; not social engineers. ”
    Translation: Rampant discrimination and attacks on the lives of minorities.

    Trump has no regard for rule of law and is piling up crimes in office. Impeachment and indictment is a matter of how and when, not if or why.

  39. I’m laughing. You literally know nothing about me. I do share my account with two others however. I’m seriously not likely to divulge things on detail on here. Two of those four points I know nothing about, rather off my topic of involvement. But yes, I do stick to Rock N Roll now. Far safer!

  40. Facts have a distinct anti-Trump bias. Your

    “Again, 312k jobs created last month – I’ll take that”

    Except, your claim is false. We have a net loss for jobs somewhere around 150K in the last quarter of 2018. The economy is in free fall at the moment. That trade war with China damaged industries associated with conservative political bases (Agriculture, manufacturing, resource extraction)

    Wage growth is currently flat after a precipitous drop following the 2018 Tax Plan passage . It is not increasing. You are lying here.

    Funny thing is Trump is still supporting the near genocidal war in Yemen and wars dozens of other countries. Pulling out of Syria means leaving Kurdish allies there to be wiped out by Trump’s buddies Russia and Turkey.

    We are still sending American kids to die for folly. You are being far from honest here in your efforts to polish the t_rd of the incompetent Trump presidency.

  41. I agree. Extraditing him to Turkey would be a death sentence.

  42. While I am unprepared to offer an opinion on Gulen’s extradition, I am concerned that the Gulen organization is involved with over 150 charter schools in the US paid for by taxpayers. That has to end.

  43. For what, oil, a resource that we could have developed the technology to make obsolete in the 90’s? Surely you’re not still under this rock…

  44. President? lmao! You would take your brain out and play with it if you could. “Watch dude, it sticks to the wall!”

  45. High enough grade to know your a pedophile relentlessly but feebly trying to defend pedophile priests and their higher ups in this forum.

  46. Since I have not defended one pedophile of any stripe, I’m guessing based on your reading comprehension you’re a high school freshman known for low academic performance.

  47. You’re defense of pedophile priests, their higher ups and the institution is crystal clear. Anyone can read your posts for the last 2 years and tell you ARE a pedophile… and you are too stupid to realize it. You can’t have more than a 70 IQ. I would bet BIG money on both! You are so dumb, you think Trump is a president! Again, you would play with your brain if you could…

  48. Bigfoot is real and Elvis is still alive! …a complete, 100% politicized, nationalized stooge. A politically used condom. A tool no different than ‘liberals’, just a different ilk. Obviously you vote, but hopefully you don’t drive… or god forbid, breed!

  49. The EXAGGERATION came from MSM. 🙁 Like that’s a big surprise (NOT.) He announced U.S. will leave Syria. MSM turned that into ‘pulling out, abandoning,’ etc. He later said … organized, planned, over time. Not “today”.

  50. That’s what left-leaning media has programmed you to believe. TURKEY, however, repeatedly and publicly has stated they do NOT believe MBS was involved….and are NOT blaming him. So…let’s LOOK AT the situation AGAIN: WHO waits until the day BEFORE getting married to obtain PROOF OF DIVORCE??? As previously married woman, I can say without a doubt I’d be bugging my intended to get proof of divorce BEFORE day B4 wedding! I also would throw an absolute fit if he even mentioned going to a foreign country that he wouldn’t be safe in …. but we are to believe his fiancée accompanied him, and stood outside waiting for him. See- neither of those things add up. BTW Saudi can retain monarchs and still institute democratic reform…..

  51. First thing you should probably quit doing is relying on U.S. MSM for anything about Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia or MBS. Actually — gee it pains me to do this because I detest tRump – but I’m sooooo weary of the constant either twisting to lies of what he’s said. As I recall initial reactions were similar to: IF he (MBS) did it, that would be very bad …and there would be big problem/s. Then something like ‘I asked him, and he said he didn’t do it’ (or wasn’t involved …or however the comment was worded). So – WTF do you think he’s SUPPOSED to do? This is the RULER of another country he’s communicating with: Do you think he’s supposed to then get on TV and say ‘I asked him, he denied, and I think he’s a big fat LIAR’???? With NO PROOF??? Some of you are absolutely a trip. And yes, he DID make a comment — seems like this was when it had been revealed he had been murdered — that he (U.S. govt) was NOT going to (see I don’t remember again exact wording – make intl incident over ? or go after MBS or Saudi govt?) — again NO PROOF of MBS involvement, AND yes, he [tRump] acknowledged the $$$$ Saudi arms contracts are worth – and even referenced ‘that’s 40,000 U.S. JOBS at stake.’ Yep, Lindsay Graham jumped out into the limelight and made a threat — ah ‘there would be HELL TO PAY IF….” We’re back to the ‘if’ not being PROVEN. As far as Congress ‘investigating’ tRump’s ‘ties to Saudi’ — guess you’ve forgotten it was the BUSH Dynasty that went back generations with House of Saud — and of course DEM majority House is going to ‘investigate tRump’ — whether valid or not. Seems our govt these days – BOTH SIDES – always has $$$ for endless investigations.

  52. We wouldn’t have any need to ‘counter’ Iran if we hadn’t plotted and overthrown their previous DEMOCRATIC govt’s. We need Saudi for OIL ….

  53. WHAT has tRump accomplished? Ironic — I keep seeing you trumpettes make that comment – but when asked for specifics you go MUTE. He can’t even get HIS OWN PARTY to support much needed security on our southern border. SMH

  54. We are the number one producer of oil in the world.
    We need the Saudis to counter Iran because Iran is aligned with Russia.
    Also to defend Israel.

  55. SOMETHING has to be amiss with those jobs reports. IDK if they’re ‘counting’ fed employees (and/or employees of fed contractors) that went back to work (or resumed being paid) as ‘created jobs’….but LOGIC and my eyes tell me not to believe that job creation propaganda. Look at all the MAJOR RETAILERS that have folded…and all the jobs lost. PayLess (shoe store) just announced they’re closing ALL STORES – filing BK. This on heels of closure of ALL Sears stores. JoAnn’s closures. SMH

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