Turkey has dismissed as “ludicrous and groundless” a report that Turkish officials may have discussed kidnapping a US-based Muslim cleric in exchange for millions of dollars.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was investigating an alleged plot involving former US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and his son to forcibly remove Fethullah Gulen and hand him over to Ankara for as much as $15 million (£11.4m).
Turkey blames Mr Gulen for last year’s failed coup attempt. Mr Gulen denies the claim.
In a statement on Twitter, Turkey’s embassy in Washington reiterated demands that the US extradite Mr Gulen so he can stand trial. The embassy said Turkey has been working with US agencies to provide evidence of Mr Gulen’s culpability and rejected “allegations that Turkey would resort to means external to the rule of law”.
Turkish officials say they have provided US officials with ample evidence for Mr Gulen’s involvement in the coup that killed 250 people. Nearly 50,000 people are behind bars in Turkey and more than 100,000 civil servants have been dismissed from their jobs for alleged links to the cleric’s network in the government’s crackdown after the failed coup.
Yet questions remain whether Mr Gulen would receive a fair trial in Turkey.
The Turkish embassy said the Turkish people find Mr Gulen’s continued refuge in the US “perplexing and deeply frustrating”.
Mr Gulen has been living in the US for nearly two decades. He is a former ally of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan until a public fallout in 2013 led the government to declare Mr Gulen’s network a terror group.
Relations between Turkey and the US have been tense over disagreements on multiple fronts. The two countries suspended non-immigrant visa services in October in a tit-for-tat following the arrest of two local US embassy employees. The services resumed on a limited basis this month.
Also behind bars in Turkey for alleged links to Mr Gulen is US pastor Andrew Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years. Mr Erdogan said in September the US was pressing Turkey to return a “cleric” while refusing to hand over another “cleric”.
Complicating relations further is the case of a Turkish-Iranian businessman on trial in the US for evading US sanctions on Iran. A former Turkish economy minister and an executive of a state-owned Turkish bank have also been indicted. The case starts on 27 November.