Is Turkey using the Khashoggi case to win US extradition of Gulen?
ISTANBUL - A US news report is alleging that Turkey is using the investigation into the murder of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in order to pressure the US to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Ankara of complicity in a failed coup two years ago.
Citing four anonymous sources, US TV network NBC said Thursday that Trump administration officials had asked law enforcement agencies about "legal ways of removing" Gulen, 77, from the US to persuade Turkey's president "to ease pressure on the Saudi government."
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert rejected the allegation.
She insisted that "there is no relation" between the Gulen extradition issue and Turkish pressure on Saudi Arabia over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.
The White House "has not been involved in any discussions related to the extradition of Fetullah Gulen," she said.
She confirmed, however, that the Turkish government had put pressure on the US over the Gulen issue. "We have received multiple requests from the Turkish government... related to Mr Gulen," Nauert said.
"We continue to evaluate the material that the Turkish government presents requesting his extradition," she said.
Erdogan has long demanded that Washington extradite Gulen, who denies any involvement in the attempted coup and has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999. US officials have said the courts need sufficient evidence to extradite the elderly cleric.
A senior Turkish official said the issues of Gulen's extradition, which Turkey has long sought, and the investigation into who was behind Khashoggi's killing at Saudi Arabia's Istanbul consulate last month were separate issues.
"At no point did Turkey offer to hold back on the Khashoggi investigation in return for Fethullah Gulen's extradition," the official said. "We have no intention to intervene in the Khashoggi investigation in return for any political or legal favour."
On Thursday, Washington announced it was imposing sanctions on 17 Saudi officials implicated in the Khashoggi case through the Saudi investigation.
Commentators in the region said the NBC report offered fresh insight into Ankara's possible motive for pursuing orchestrated leaks about the Khashoggi case via pro-government newspapers.
"I never had any doubt that Turkey was trading with the blood of Jamal Khashoggi," Abdulrahman al-Rashed, a prominent Saudi columnist, wrote on Twitter.
Saudi prosecutors on Thursday announced indictments against 11 people and said a total of 21 individuals were in custody in connection with the killing of Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
They will be seeking the death penalty for five of them who "are charged with ordering and committing the crime."
Turkey said the Saudi statement was "insufficient and hinted through fresh media leaks that it intends to continue its drip by drip strategy of exerting pressure on the US and Saudi Arabia through a steady release of details about the case.
Turkey has more evidence that contradicts Saudi Arabia's version of Khashoggi's murder, including a second audio recording, a Turkish newspaper reported on Friday.
(With news agencies)