A reclusive Muslim cleric who lives in exile in Pennsylvania is now under an international spotlight after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly demanded Saturday that the U.S. extradite the imam for allegedly being behind an attempted coup that sought to remove Erdogan from power.
The imam, Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan's, disputed the notion that he was involved in the attempted overthrow of Turkey's president on Friday night.
"I condemn, in the strongest terms, the attempted military coup in Turkey," he said. "Government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force. ... As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt."
He said today he knows nothing about who plotted the coup.
"You can think about many motivations of people who staged this coup. They could be sympathizers of the opposition party. They could be sympathizers of the nationalist party. It could be anything," Gulen, who left Turkey in 1999, said through an interpreter.
Gulen and Erdogan were once political allies before falling out over corruption allegations leveled at the Turkish president. Since then, Erdogan has frequently accused the Muslim cleric of trying to overthrow the government.
Today he criticized Erdogan for what he called the government's "repression and persecution" of Gulen's followers in Turkey.
"It appears that they have no tolerance for any movement, any group, any organization that is not under their total control," Gulen said.
Gulen is believed to have support among some members of the Turkish military. His movement, called Hizmet, which means "service", includes think tanks, various media enterprises and schools in many countries, including charter schools in the U.S.
Gulen, in his mid 70s, came to the U.S. in the late 1990s. He and Erdogan were formerly allies but became estranged in recent years.
And Erdogan has blamed Gulen before of trying to overthrow the Turkish government.
In a rare broadcast interview with the BBC in 2014, Gulen denied allegations that he had used his influence to start investigations into alleged corruption among senior members of Erdogan's political party, probes that had led to a number of police commissioners losing their jobs and some of Erdogan's allies being arrested.
The BBC noted that Gulen was thought to have millions of followers and that some have said that even in exile he is the second most powerful man in Turkey.
From his compound in the town of Saylorsburg in the Poconos, the cleric promotes a philosophy that blends a mystical form of Islam with advocacy of democracy, education, science and interfaith dialogue.
Asked by reporters Saturday about Erdogan's claim of Gulen's being behind the attempted coup, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, "We fully anticipate that there will be questions raised about Mr. Gulen. And obviously we would invite the government of Turkey, as we always do, to present us with any legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny. And the United States will accept that and look at it and make judgments about it appropriately."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.