Muslim cleric eyed as potential instigator of Turkish military’s coup attempt denies responsibility from his Poconos compound

By ADAM SCHRADER and RICH SCHAPIRO
Published in The New York Daily News on July 16, 2016

By the Turkish government’s telling, the foiled coup attempt that threw the country into chaos was set in motion in the unlikeliest of places — a secluded compound in the Poconos.

Living deep in the Pennsylvania woods is Fathullah Gulen, a reclusive Muslim cleric who leads a movement that has become deeply critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan called on the U.S. Saturday to arrest and extradite the 77-year-old Gulen — declaring him a terrorist.

Living deep in the Pennsylvania woods is Fathullah Gulen, a reclusive Muslim cleric who leads a movement that has become deeply critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

But Gulen, in an hour-long interview with reporters at his sprawling estate in Saylorsburg, insisted Saturday he had nothing to do with the foiled attempt to overthrow Erdogan.

“Since I do not know these people I cannot speak to their potential involvement in the attack,” Gulen said through an interpreter.

A man throws himself in front of a tank at the entrance to Istanbul’s Ataturk airport early Saturday morning, July 16, 2016. Members of Turkey’s armed forces said they had taken control of the country.

“I have been away from Turkey for more than 16 years. I have not been following the developments.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. would entertain an extradition request for Gulen.

“We fully anticipate that there will be questions raised about Mr. Gulen,” Kerry said while visiting Luxembourg. “And obviously, we invite the government of Turkey, as we always do, to present us with any legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny.”

Gulen was once a close ally of Erdogan. But the pair fell out in 2013 when prosecutors believed to be Gulen followers launched a corruption probe that targeted Erdogan’s allies.

Gulen, whose Hizmet movement includes think tanks and schools, is said to hold sway over some military personnel, judges and mid-level bureaucrats.

The cleric has been in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since emigrating to the U.S. in 1999. He’s suffering from heart disease and diabetes and is rarely seen outside of the Golden Generation Worship & Retreat Center’s 26-acre spread.

Speaking Saturday in soft measured tones, Gulen made it clear he’s no fan of Erdogan.

“I’m not sure President Erdogan would accept my message, even if I were to send him the best of the best message,” he said. “He would probably consider it a slur and reject it. This is obvious from the fact that even before the details of the coup attempt surfaced, he began accusing me of being behind the coup.”