Turkish lawyers are trying to arrest a group of American soldiers based in Turkey for alleged links to a terrorist group, amid an ongoing souring of relationships between Washington and Ankara.
The pro-government lawyers have filed complaints against almost a dozen personnel at the Incirlik Air Base on the country’s southern coast, Stars and Stripes reported.
The 60-page complaint was issued by the Association for Social Justice and Aid, known to be supportive of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The document requested a temporary freeze on flights leaving the base—which is home to thousands of Americans—and a search warrant to allow investigators access.
The group alleges the 11 soldiers are linked to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish religious leader and political figure Erdogan claims was behind a failed military coup in 2016. The lawyers argue that through their supposed ties to Gulen, the Americans have attempted to “destroy the constitutional order” of Turkey. Gulen's followers have been branded terrorists by the Turkish government.
Those named include General Joseph Votel, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, retired U.S. Army General John F. Campbell and Air Force Brigadier General Rick Boutwell, director of regional affairs for the deputy undersecretary of the Air Force.
The Air Force told Stripes that all questions over the case should be referred to the Turkish government. “We continue to carry out our mission here at Incirlik Air Base, and we are proud of the relationship we have with our Turkish military partners,” said Air Force Captain Amanda Herman, spokeswoman for the base.
The Turkish government has repeatedly called on the U.S. to extradite Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania. He originally came to the U.S. in 1999 for medical treatment and applied for a Green Card in 2001. American authorities say the Turkish government has not provided sufficient evidence of his involvement in the coup for the cleric to be extradited.
The U.S. and Turkish governments are currently at odds over the imprisonment of American pastor Andrew Brunson. The preacher—who was detained in 2016 in a post-coup crackdown—is also accused of links to Gulenists, as well as a Kurdish militant group considered terrorists by the Turkish government.
Erdogan has repeatedly suggested Brunson could be freed in exchange for Gulen’s extradition. During a speech last year, the president linked Brunson’s fate to that of the exiled cleric. Referring to the U.S., Erdogan said, “‘Give us the pastor back’, they say. You have one pastor as well. Give him [Gulen] to us. Then we will try him [Brunson] and give him to you.”
Last week, President Donald Trump ordered sanctions on Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul over Brunson’s continued detention. Brunson is currently under house arrest in the city of Izmir, awaiting trial.
High-level talks this week failed to reach an agreement, raising the possibility of further U.S. actions against NATO ally Turkey. The country’s currency was already struggling, but the specter of American sanctions has sent the lira into a spin.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. government is also trying to free Turkish-American NASA scientist Serkan Golge, also arrested in Erdogan’s post-coup sweep. Efforts are also being made to help three Turkish citizens who worked for the U.S. State Department, The Journal said.