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The United States would consider an extradition request for the Pennsylvania-based cleric blamed for the attempted military coup in Turkey, Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday.
In a televised speech, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the U.S. should extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who self-exiled from Turkey to the Poconos in 1999.
Erdogan and the Turkish government say Gulen is behind the clashes that broke out Friday night when the military attempted and failed to usurp the government. At least 194 people were killed in the turmoil.
But Gulen denied any involvement with the coup, telling reporters Saturday that he thinks it may have been "staged."
Erdogan has long accused Gulen, a former ally, of trying to overthrow the government. Washington has never found any evidence particularly compelling.
A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that Turkey "has been preparing a formal application with detailed information about Gulen's involvement in illegal activities. After last night, we have one more thing to add to an already extensive list."
Kerry told reporters Saturday, during a trip to Luxembourg, that such a request has not been received.
"We fully anticipate that there will be questions raised about Mr. Gulen," Kerry said, adding that the U.S. would act only if Turkey could prove wrongdoing on Gulen's part.
"Obviously, we invite the government of Turkey, as we always do, to present us with any legitimate evidence that stands — withstands scrutiny, and the United States will accept that and look at it and make judgments about it appropriately," Kerry said.
Kerry and President Barack Obama urged all sides to respect the democratically elected government in Turkey, a NATO ally since 1952.
Gulen denied he was involved in the coup attempt.
"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," Gulen said.
"I condemn, in the strongest terms, the attempted military coup in Turkey," Gulen added. "Government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force."
He later told reporters that he thinks the coup could have been staged.
"There is a slight chance, there is a possibility that it could be a staged coup," Gulen told reporters through a translator in Pennsylvania. "It could be meant for court accusations and associations."
He said Erdogan's government seems to "have no tolerance for any movement, any group, any organization that is not under their total control."
But, he added: "Through military interventions, democracy cannot be achieved. Through military interventions, republican government cannot be strengthened. And through military intervention, Turkey's integration with the world cannot be strengthened or achieved."
State Department spokesman John Kirby said later Saturday Kerry had spoken with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavosoglu, and urged Turkish officials to be responsible as they investigate who was behind the attempted coup.
Kerry said the U.S. would provide assistance in the investigation, but warned that any suggestions that the U.S. was somehow involved would be detrimental to U.S.-Turkey relations.