© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Turkish Interior Minister Soylu speaks during a press conference in Istanbul
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s interior minister on Thursday accused the United States of being behind a failed 2016 coup that Ankara attributed to a US-based Muslim preacher, the daily Hurriyet reported, at a time when Turkey seeks to improve ties with its NATO. ally. The US State Department said the accusation was “totally false.” More than 250 people were killed in an attempt to overthrow President Tayyip Erdogan and his government on July 15, 2016, when rogue soldiers seized fighter jets, helicopters and tanks to take over state institutions. Ankara has long blamed preacher Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally living in Pennsylvania, and launched a widespread crackdown on his network, which Ankara refers to by the acronym ‘FETO’. Gulen denies any involvement. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told Hurriyet that the United States had handled the coup attempt while Gulen’s network was carrying it out, adding that “Europe was excited about it,” reaffirming a view that he said he had been expressing. since the coup. “It is clear that the United States is behind on July 15. It was FETO who carried it out under his orders,” he said. The US State Department said in a statement: “The United States did not participate in the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey and immediately condemned it. Recent claims to the contrary made by senior Turkish officials are totally false.” He said that “unfounded and irresponsible claims of US responsibility for the events in Turkey are inconsistent with Turkey’s status as a NATO ally and strategic partner of the United States.” Washington has repeatedly rejected Turkish demands for Gulen’s extradition, citing the lack of credible evidence from Ankara. Ankara is seeking to repair strained ties with Washington, which last year imposed sanctions on Turkey for the purchase of Russian air defense systems, and with the European Union. The EU has threatened to take action against Ankara over a dispute with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey has said in recent weeks that it achieved a “positive agenda” with the EU and that it wants to improve relations with the United States under the presidency of Joe Biden. He is expected to be tougher on Ankara for its human rights record, which has worried Turkey’s western allies. Since the failed coup, Turkey has detained some 292,000 people for alleged links to Gulen and suspended or fired more than 150,000 public officials. Hundreds of media outlets have been shut down and dozens of opposition lawmakers jailed. The government‘s response to month-long protests at one of the country’s top universities has also alarmed Washington and the United Nations, both condemning the “homophobic” rhetoric of officials. Soylu has referred to some protesters as “LGBT deviants” and Erdogan said Wednesday that “there is no such thing” as LGBT, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.