ANKARA (Reuters) - Influential Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen has cursed those responsible for a purge of police officers involved in a corruption investigation, in his first comments on the case that has struck at the heart of the ruling elite.
Gulen's words, invoking God's punishment, raise the stakes in a crisis seen as the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in 11 years.
Erdogan has called the detention of scores of people seen as close to the government a "dirty operation" aimed at undermining his rule. Dozens of police chiefs have been removed from their posts since the detentions began.
Erdogan has refrained from naming Gulen, who has influence in the police and judiciary, as the hand behind the investigation. But Gulen's Hizmet (or Service) movement has been increasingly at odds with Erdogan in recent months.
"...Those who don't see the thief but go after those trying to catch the thief, who don't see the murder but try to defame others by accusing innocent people - let God bring fire to their houses, ruin their homes, break their unities," Gulen said in a recording uploaded to one of his websites on Friday.
The reclusive preacher has lived in the United States since 1999.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Ece Toksabay, Editing by Andrew Heavens)