WASHINGTON (AFP) - Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in self-imposed exile in the United States, said Saturday he had no involvement in an attempted coup in Turkey, and suggested it could have been staged by the president himself.
Gulen, a reclusive preacher with a worldwide following who is regularly accused of a behind the scenes role in Turkish politics, lives in Saylorsburg, a tiny town in the Pocono Mountains of the US state of Pennsylvania.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Gulen of being behind Friday's bloody coup attempt that has killed at least 265 people, and urged the United States to extradite to Turkey the "man who lives in Pennsylvania."
"I don't know who my followers are," Gulen told The New York Times from his compound, when asked if any of his backers were involved in the coup attempt.
"Since I do not know these individuals, I cannot speak of their potential involvement. It could be something from the opposition or nationalists. I have been away from Turkey for 30 years and have not been following this."
Shortly after the coup attempt began, Gulen had in a statement condemned the military uprising "in the strongest terms."
During his rare interview, Gulen said it was "possible" the coup was staged by Erdogan.
"But as a believer like myself, I cannot make accusations without evidence. It could be a lie, it could be a false accusation and I seek refuge from God in false accusations," Gulen said.
"Some leaders stage... false suicide attacks to strengthen their hand, such people may come up with such scenarios. As a believer, I cannot make false accusations." Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would assist Turkey in the investigation of the failed coup and invited Ankara to share any evidence it had against Gulen.
Gulen, 75, was once a close ally of Erdogan but the two fell out in recent years as Erdogan became suspicious of Gulen's movement, Hizmet, and its powerful presence in Turkish society, including the media, police and judiciary.
The preacher moved to the United States in 1999, before he was charged with treason in his native country.
He has since led a secluded life in Pennsylvania, declining interviews and rarely making public appearances.