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Fethullah Gulen: Who is the US-based cleric President Erdogan blames for the failed Turkey coup?

Gulen denies any involvement of the coup and condemns it ‘in the strongest terms’ 

Olivia Blair
Saturday 16 July 2016 16:19 BST
Fethullah Gulen
Fethullah Gulen (Rex)

More than 160 people have died after violence unfolded on the streets of Turkey following a failed coup by a faction of the military.

Forces loyal to President Tayyip Erdogan crushed the attempt on Friday evening and the government has since appeared to regain control. President Erdogan has denounced the failed coup as an “act of treason” and warned those behind it "will pay a heavy price for their treason to Turkey”.

The president has pointed the finger at supporters of his former ally, the exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, for the coup – something he has categorically denied.

Addressing the country via the smartphone of a CNN reporter, Mr Erdogan blamed the “parallel structure”, a term he uses to describe supporters of Mr Gulen.

But who is Fethullah Gulen?

Despite being blamed for the coup, Mr Gulen does not actually live in Turkey and resides in Pennsylvania in the US under a self-imposed exile. He has lived in the US since 1999.

The 75-year-old was a preacher for many years and has been described as one of the world’s most important Muslim figures.

Born in Ezurum, Turkey, in 1941, he studied and then began speaking in mosques and conference halls around the country. He became very well-known in Turkey and opened a legion of schools in the country before expanding them into central Asian countries and Africa.

Mr Gulen leads the Hizmet movement, which is believed to have millions of supporters in Turkey including from people in powerful positions. The movement extends beyond Turkey and has supporters over the world.

Erdogan: Turkey coup bid 'an act of treason'

The movement promotes interfaith dialogue – Mr Gulen has been pictured with Pope John Paul II and high-up rabbis – education and democracy.

He was once an ally of Mr Erdogan but their relationship soured when the Turkish president accused Mr Gulen of being behind a corruption investigation into key figures in the government in 2013.

In response, Mr Erdogan embarked upon a purge of journalists, army officials and police officers who he believed were linked to Mr Gulen’s movement, and closed down a number of private schools launched by Hizmet.

In 2014, Turkey issued an arrest warrant for Mr Gulen for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government, something he has consistently denied. Last year, he was added to Turkey’s most wanted list, according to the Daily Sabah.

The Turkish government has renewed these accusations in the wake of the failed coup, with a lawyer for the Turkish government claiming on Friday that “there are indications of direct involvement” from Mr Gulen and his movement.

On Saturday, the US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US would entertain an extradition request for Mr Gulen but said they had not received one. Mr Kerry said the Turkish government would have to present evidence of Mr Gulen’s alleged wrongdoing that withstands scrutiny.

Mr Gulen has issued a statement through the Alliance of Shared Values, a US affiliate of Hizmet, condemning the coup and denying any involvement.

“I condemn in the strongest terms, the attempted military coup in Turkey. Government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force. I pray to God for Turkey, for Turkish citizens and for all those currently in Turkey that this situation is resolved peacefully and quickly, he said.

“As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt. I categorically deny such accusations.”

According to the Alliance, nowadays Mr Gulen, who has been previously described as reclusive, spends most of his time in “relative solitude” at his retreat in Pennsylvania reading, writing and worshipping.

Additional reporting by agencies.

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