Report: US could remove Erdogan rival

White House reportedly looking for ways to remove Fethulleh Gulen from the US in order to placate Turkey over Saudi journalist's murder.

Ben Ariel ,

Fethullah Gulen
Fethullah Gulen

The White House is looking for ways to remove an enemy of Turkish President Recep Erdogan from the US in order to placate Turkey over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, NBC News reported on Thursday, citing two senior US officials and two other people briefed on the requests.

Trump administration officials last month asked federal law enforcement agencies to examine legal ways of removing exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen in an attempt to persuade Erdogan to ease pressure on the Saudi government, the four sources said.

Gulen is an Islamic cleric who lives in the US and who Erdogan claims orchestrated a failed coup in 2016.

Turkey has pressed, so far in vain, for the United States to extradite Gulen over the July 2016 coup, in which more than 240 people were killed. Gulen denies any involvement in the failed coup.

The administration’s latest effort includes directives to the Justice Department and FBI that officials reopen Turkey's case for Gulen’s extradition, as well as a request to the Homeland Security Department for information about his legal status, the four people told NBC News.

They said the White House specifically wanted details about Gulen's residency status in the US. Gulen has a Green Card, according to two people familiar with the matter. He has been living in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s.

Career officials at the agencies pushed back on the White House requests, the US officials and people briefed on the requests said.

A spokesperson for the National Security Council initially declined to comment on this story but after it published, said in a statement quoted by NBC News, "The NSC has not been involved in nor aware of any discussions relating the extradition of Fethullah Gulen to the death of Jamal Khashoggi."

The State Department, Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment.

A lawyer representing Gulen declined to comment. The FBI also declined to comment.

A Turkish official said the government does not link its concerns about the Khashoggi murder with Gulen's extradition case.

Khashoggi, a US resident, was murdered in Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

The Turkish government has accused Saudi Arabia of murdering the dissident journalist and chopping his body into pieces.

Saudi Arabia admitted for the first time several weeks ago that Khashoggi was killed after entering the consulate in Istanbul, after previously denying Turkish claims that he was murdered.

The case has strained ties between the US and Saudi Arabia. President Donald Trump has derided the killing as "one of the worst cover-ups" in history, but has also emphasized America's important commercial, strategic and national security relationships with the Saudis.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman this week that the US will hold accountable all involved in the killing of the Saudi journalist.