Lawyers for exiled cleric call Flynn’s comments ‘troubling’
By MICHAEL RUBINKAM
Lawyers for a Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric accused by Turkey of masterminding a failed coup said Friday they’re confident he won’t be extradited, even though President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for national security adviser recently denounced him as a “masked source of terror” and argued the U.S. shouldn’t allow him to stay.
Michael Flynn, a former Army lieutenant general tapped Friday by Trump, was highly critical of Fethullah Gulen in an Election Day op-ed for the Washington, D.C.-based newspaper The Hill.
“Gulen’s vast global network has all the right markings to fit the description of a dangerous sleeper terror network. From Turkey’s point of view, Washington is harboring Turkey’s Osama bin Laden,” Flynn wrote. “We should not provide him safe haven.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan contends Gulen orchestrated an attempted military coup in July and has demanded his extradition. President Barack Obama’s administration has not complied.
Gulen has never been charged with a crime in the U.S., and he has consistently denounced terrorism as well as the failed coup in Turkey.
One of Gulen’s lawyers, Jason Weinstein, called Flynn’s comments about Gulen “troubling” but said the extradition process is a legal matter in the hands of the Department of Justice.
“We hope and expect that the law will be followed here and that politics will not interfere with the judgment of career officials at DOJ. If the law is followed, then we are confident that Mr. Gulen will not be returned to Turkey, where he is certain to be subject to torture, a sham trial, and execution,” Weinstein said in a statement.
According to Senate records, Flynn’s company, Flynn Intel Group, registered as a lobbyist on Sept. 15 for a Dutch-based company headed by a Turkish businessman, Ekim Alptekin. The Senate disclosure says Flynn “will advise client on U.S. domestic and foreign policy.”
Alptekin told The Associated Press on Friday that while he believes Gulen leads a “criminal organization,” he has no connection to Erdogan’s government and had nothing to do with Flynn’s article.
“It is simply preposterous,” said Alptekin, who also chairs the Turkish-American Business Council. “I would never dare suggest anything like that, and if I had, my relationship (with Flynn) would have been immediately over.”
He said his business consultancy, Inovo B.V., hired Flynn Intel to advise it on security issues in the Middle East.
Robert Kelley, the chief counsel to Flynn Intel Group, didn’t immediately return an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Flynn said in a statement previously that if he returns to “government service, my relationship with my company will be severed, in accordance with the policy announced by President-elect Trump.”
In the op-ed, Flynn asserted that Gulen’s moderate image masks a hidden “radical Islamist” agenda. He did not provide evidence.
Gulen has criticized Erdogan, his onetime ally, over the Turkish leader’s authoritarian rule. The Erdogan regime has launched a broad campaign against Gulen’s movement in Turkey and abroad, purging civil servants suspected of ties to the movement, seizing businesses and closing media organizations.
In the United States, a lawyer hired by the Turkish government has lodged numerous accusations against a network of about 150 publicly funded charter schools started by followers of Gulen, whose philosophy blends a mystical form of Islam with advocacy of democracy, education, science and interfaith dialogue.
Nobody associated with the U.S. schools has been charged with wrongdoing.
Gulen has lived on a compound in the Pocono Mountains since 1999.