Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Turkish leader and prominent cleric, shot to fame in the aftermath of the failed military coup in Turkey.
After President Recep Tayyip Erdogan thundered in front of throngs of supporters and placed the blame of the attempted takeover squarely on Gulen, interest in the hitherto largely unknown leader skyrocketed.
The 75-year-old preacher, who has categorically denied the accusation, is a former ally of Erdogan who broke off with the president over the issue of corruption. Since then, the religiously inclined, reclusive Gulen retired to a compound in Pennsylvania, from where he operates the popular Hizmet movement.
In a rare gesture, Gulen invited reporters to his frugal compound, where he was skeptical about the failed military takeover.
“There is a possibility that it could be a staged coup and it could be meant for further accusations (against Gulen and his followers),” The Guardian reported him as saying.
His fears are not entirely unfounded. In the trail of the coup, Erdogan fired 2,754 judges. Critics alleged that the involvement of such a staggering number of judges could not be ascertained immediately after the coup. It was obvious to onlookers that Erdogan was using this opportunity to strengthen his rule and to introduce in the laws that would have been impossible to introduce with the now-deposed judges.
Expressing his unequivocal support for democracy, Gulen said, “Now that Turkey is on the path to democracy, it cannot turn back.”
But his statements were somewhat contradictory.
When asked if he would have returned home if the coup had not been crushed, Gulen, who asserts he denounces coups, replied, "Indeed, I miss my homeland a lot. But there is another important factor, which is freedom. I am here, away from the political troubles in Turkey and I live with my freedom."
Erdogan's government is increasingly demanding the U.S. government extradite Gulen, reminding President Barack Obama that Turkey has never turned down a U.S. request for extradition.
Commenting on the request, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, "And obviously we would invite the government of Turkey, as we always do, to present us with any legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny. And the United States will accept that and look at it and make judgments about it appropriately."