Declaring his government firmly in control, a defiant Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday demanded the United States arrest or extradite an exiled Islamic cleric he blames for a coup attempt that ended with nearly 200 people dead.
The cleric, Fethullah Gulen, living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, suggested that overthrow and assassination attempts have been staged in the past though he did not directly accuse Erdogan of deliberately plunging Turkey into chaos.
The upheaval exposes deep discontent within the military ranks. But less than 24 hours after a night of violence, questions remained about who was behind it and why they decided to act now.
The ramifications of the coup attempt on the political system of a NATO ally and partner in the U.S. fight against ISIS also remain unclear.
Erdogan’s call for U.S. involvement in punishing his rival comes after Turkish authorities closed the airspace around Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base, where his government allows the American military to launch operations in the air campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
“This country suffered a lot in the hands of the Gulen Movement,” Erdogan told throngs of supporters near his home in Istanbul.
“I call on the United States and President Barack Obama … (to) either arrest Fethullah Gulen or return him to Turkey,” he added. “If we are strategic partners or model partners, do what is necessary.”
Gulen, a reclusive figure who leads a popular movement called Hizmet, said anyone could have masterminded the coup attempt: nationalists, the opposition. He denied any involvement.
“It could be anything,” Gulen told journalists through a translator.
“I have been away from Turkey for 16 years,” he said.
Whoever was responsible, the uprising is the latest worrying example of deteriorating stability in a country once promoted to the wider Muslim world as a model of democratic governance and economic prosperity.
Some 14 years after Erdogan’s political party swept to power in elections, Turkey teeters on the brink.
At the heart of Erdogan’s rivalry with Gulen is a fundamental division in Turkish society between secularists — some within the country’s top military brass — and Islamists, including the president’s AKP party.
Thousands of military officers have been arrested, including the commander of Turkey’s 2nd Army, Gen. Adem Huduti.
On Saturday, the Pentagon said U.S. officials were working with Turkey to resume air operations at Incirlik Air Base.
“In the meantime, U.S. Central Command is adjusting flight operations in the counter-ISIL campaign to minimize any effects on the campaign,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.