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Niece of cleric Fethullah Gulen captured while fleeing to Greece

Sumeyye Gulen is not the first relative of the US-based Erdogan critic to be arrested
Turkish border outpost
Picture taken from the Greek side of the Greece-Turkey border near Kastanies shows a Turkish border outpost, on March 6, 2020 (AFP).

The niece of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Turkish cleric and Erdogan opponent, has been captured while reportedly trying to flee Turkey across its northeastern land border with Greece.

Sumeyye Gulen was arrested by a Turkish border patrol, Turkey's Defense Ministry announced on Thursday. 

The ministry said Gulen was among 10 people trying to enter Greece, with four in her group also alleged members of the cleric's network, which Ankara describes as the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO).

The captured individuals were identified as a former judge and a teacher linked to Gulen, and others with ties to the group - while five others were reportedly associated with the Kurdish PKK armed group, according to a report in the pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper.

Fethullah Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile in a remote Pennsylvania compound since 1999 after breaking with his one-time ally, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ankara has long accused Gulen of being behind a failed 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan and has launched a widespread crackdown on his network.

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Following the failed putsch, Turkey declared a state of emergency for two years, detaining 100,000 people and purging 150,000 public employees from their jobs.

As part of the crackdown, at least 80 Gulen supporters have been forcibly extradited to Turkey. Dozens of schools run by the Gulenist movement abroad have also been closed.

Kosovo, Bulgaria and Malaysia are among the countries that have cooperated with Turkey’s rendition requests.

Sumeyye Gulen's capture is not the first time a relative of the US-based preacher has been apprehended. Last year, Turkey’s intelligence service claimed it "captured" Fethullah Gulen's nephew at his home in Kenya.

Washington's refusal to agree to Turkey's request to extradite Gulen has been one of many sticking points in Ankara;s relationship with the US under Erdogan.

US officials have said the evidence against Gulen presented by Ankara is insufficient to stand up in court, and Gulen has denied any role in the failed coup. 

The Gulf Cooperation Council, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Pakistan all designate the Gulenist movement as a terrorist group - whereas the US, UK and Germany reject the designation.

Rights groups accuse Erdogan of frequently jailing political opponents. Earlier this year Osman Kavala, a rights activist and philanthropist, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on highly controversial charges of attempting to overthrow the government.