Turkey will this week press the UK government to extradite fugitive businessmen and activists living in Britain who were allegedly involved in the 2016 failed military coup in Ankara and Istanbul.
In an interview with the Guardian, Özlem Zengin, a senior presidential adviser and former MP in the governing Justice and Development party (AKP), called for an organisation supposedly associated with the US-based preacher Fethullah Gülen to be outlawed as a terrorist organisation in the UK.
Zengin was speaking ahead of a visit to London by the Turkish prime minister, Binali Yıldırım, with a meeting with Theresa May scheduled for Monday. Yıldırım is due to see British ministers and will urge them to improve security through close cooperation between the two countries.
Despite Turkey attempting to enter the EU as Britain is exiting, diplomatic relations between the two Nato member states are strong. May met the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in Ankara in January; the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, was there a few months later.
MPs on the foreign affairs select committee, however, have condemned the Turkish president for exploiting the failed July 2016 coup to purge opponents and suppress human rights.
Tens of thousands of teachers, lawyers, police officers, judges and other officials and citizens have been removed from their posts or detained following the coup. Zengin said the Turkish government estimates there were 60,000 people involved in the conspiracy.
Many suspects have been detained on the basis of downloading an encrypted messaging app, called ByLock, which was allegedly used by those behind the plot. Zengin denied anyone had been detained solely for using ByLock.
A former television producer and lawyer, Zengin is a senior adviser to Erdoğan. Like most female supporters of the AKP, she wears the hijab – the Islamic headscarf banned by previous governments in schools, universities, the army and state institutions.
She was in London for meetings organised by the Democratic Progress Institute, a conflict resolution organisation. Pursuing those linked to Gülen and the coup was, she said, one of the Turkish government’s priorities.
“We have good relations with the UK. There have been extradition requests made regarding some businessmen in the UK,” Zengin said. “The ministry of justice [in Ankara] is working on these issues. Interpol has also been involved [in the hunt for Gülenist suspects].
“One of the businessmen escaped illegally to the UK. It’s a brutal organisation. We are talking about a structure that has been in existence for 40 years. All these people were under the control of the leadership. The [Turkish] prime minister is coming to the UK in order to have special talks. This will be one of the issues.
“We call it the Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (Feto). It’s not an ordinary organisation. They are trouble for Turkey now in different parts of the world. You don’t know what they are going to do.
They may have a 100-year plan for the UK. Today they are a problem for us, but tomorrow they may be a problem for you [in the UK]. We would like to see Feto banned in the UK. In my personal view, it is more dangerous than the PKK [the Kurdish separatist paramilitary group that is already banned in Britain]. They directly target kids and brainwash people. It’s like a cult.”
Gülen’s supporters have denied being involved in the coup and have accused Erdoğan of staging it for his own political advantage. Gülen himself lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Turkey has tried to extradite him from the US without success.
A Gülen supporter in the UK said he was not aware of any extradition notices being enforced in the UK but added: “We are expecting them.” Gülen supporters, he claimed, had been abducted in Malaysia and Pakistan before being removed to Turkey.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “As a matter of longstanding policy and practice, the UK will neither confirm nor deny that an extradition request has been made or received until such time as an arrest has been made in relation to that request.”
Interpol headquarters in Lyon also declined to comment on any Turkish requests for red-notice arrest warrants. A spokesperson pointed, however, to article 3 of Interpol’s constitution that explicitly prevents it from undertaking “any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character”.
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