ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey on Friday accused the United States of becoming a “safe harbor” for members of a network that it blames for a coup attempt in 2016, after Washington criticized the conviction of a U.S. Consulate employee on terror charges.
Metin Topuz, a translator and assistant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Istanbul, was sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison on Thursday, convicted of aiding the network led by U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. The Turkish government blames Gulen for the 2016 coup attempt and considers his network to be a terrorist organization.
Topuz’s arrest in 2017 and subsequent prosecution caused tensions between NATO allies Ankara and Washington. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement Thursday criticizing the conviction.
Pompeo said: “U.S. officials observed every hearing in the trial of Mr. Topuz in Istanbul, and we have seen no credible evidence to support this decision. As a result, this conviction undermines confidence in Turkey’s institutions and the critical trust at the foundation of Turkish-American relations.”
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy hit back, claiming that other people with links to Gulen had “infiltrated” U.S. missions in Turkey and accusing U.S. authorities of ignoring requests for the extradition of Gulen-affiliated individuals.
“We are concerned that the United States has become a safe harbor for members of (Gulen’s) terrorist organization,” Aksoy said in a written statement.
Aksoy also called on the United States to respect the “judicial independence” of Turkey’s courts and to refrain from attempts “to influence the judiciary.”
Topuz has maintained his innocence throughout his trial and is expected to appeal the verdict.
Gulen, who has been in self-imposed exile in the U.S. since 1999, denies involvement in the coup attempt