Turkish-Islamic Fethullah Gülen said on Tuesday that Adil Öksüz, who is accused by the Turkish government of being the key figure in Turkey’s July 2016 attempted coup, has links to Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) since he was released being detained near an airbase in Ankara during the coup.
Speaking during an exclusive interview with France 24, an international news and current affairs television network based in Paris, Gülen admitted that Öksüz was in his study circle 30 years ago and that he last met him “a few years ago.”
But Gülen said that a mere visit from one of his followers isn’t proof he orchestrated the failed coup.
The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, inspired by the views of Gülen, of masterminding the putsch, a claim strongly denied by Gülen and his movement. One of the main pieces of evidence cited by the Turkish government for Gülen’s alleged involvement in the coup is Öksüz, who is accused of being the head of the Gülen movement’s alleged network within the Turkish Air Forces. He was briefly detained after the coup attempt and is still at large.
The government claims that before the July 2016 coup attempt, Öksüz traveled to the US, where he visited Gülen. Photographs of Öksüz and his child with Gülen at the Golden Generation Retreat and Recreation Center Pennsylvania where the Turkish cleric has been living since 1999 have appeared in the Turkish press as proof of Gülen’s personal involvement in the coup bid.
“When you consider Adil Öksüz, they found him somewhere, I don’t remember where it was, and then they released him, and then there turned out be a tie between him and Turkish intelligence,” Gülen said.
Underlining that Öksüz was once part of his study circle, Gülen said: “A few years ago, he [Öksüz] came here once. I later saw in the media this picture with his child with me. This is something hundreds of people do. From taking a picture to making that kind of connection would be jumping to conclusions,” Gülen said.
Former President Gül and MİT Secretary-General Fidan also visited Gülen
Gülen went on to list a number of senior members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) who had visited him in Pennsylvania before the July 2016 coup bid, including former Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Hakan Fidan, the current secretary-general of Turkey’s MİT.
“Indeed former President Abdullah Gül visited me – before he became president or prime minister or something,” said Gülen. “… The chief of the intelligence service, Hakan Fidan, also visited here twice and he ate at my nephew’s house here twice. Everyone came here. There are photos of me with everyone. So, to make claims based on visiting me and taking pictures with me is just senseless.”
Öksüz’s alleged links to the Turkish intelligence service have not been officially confirmed. The government says he was arrested at Akıncılar military base in the early hours of July 16, 2016 and later appeared before a judge, who released Öksüz since the prosecution failed to supply incriminating evidence in the confused, immediate aftermath of the coup. Faced with no evidence, the judge ordered his release. Öksüz has since disappeared without a trace, and Turkish security services are seeking him, the government says.
When asked about the future of the Gülen movement, which has come under immense pressure from the Turkish government following the failed coup attempt, Gülen said he believes his movement’s days are not over.
“In 170 countries, our movement’s schools are still operating, including in the US, Brussels, Europe,” he said. “So I think this is a sign that this movement, whose core value is love, will continue. The politicians, their time is limited. They will go by democratic means. But this movement, which is anchored in love, will continue.”
To another question asking if he fears the warming personal relations between US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Erdoğan, could mean a fast-tracked extradition, Gülen replied: “I don’t think either him [Trump] or any other US president will risk tarnishing the reputation of the United States around the world and submit to these unreasonable demands by the Turkish president. So I’m not worried about that possibility.”