The Trump administration is exploring possible ways to remove U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen to convince Ankara to ease pressure on Saudi Arabia over the killing of a Saudi citizen, NBC News reported on Thursday.
NBC, citing four sources, said Trump administration officials asked federal law enforcement agencies to look into whether Gülen could legally be forced out of the United States.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has long demanded that Washington extradite Gülen.
Gülen had been a close ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's AKP government. Gülen's CIA-linked network helping Erdoğan to redesign and install his Islamic-rooted AKP party in power in 2002. But his alliance with the AKP has faltered in recent years. On 15 July 2016, the network of Gülen, which is also an Islamic cult, attempted to topple down Erdoğan by a military coup but it failed.
Erdoğan ramped up pressure on Saudi Arabia after U.S.-based Saudi Jamal Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone to pick up documents related to his upcoming marriage.
Ankara has said it has recordings related to the Khashoggi killing. Erdoğan has insisted the killing was ordered at the "highest levels" of the Saudi government and has continued to keep the pressure on de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including demanding the extradition of 18 suspects it believes are connected to the killing.
NBC News said the Trump administration had directed the Justice Department and the FBI to reopen Turkey's case for Gülen's extradition. The administration also asked the Department of Homeland Security for information about Gülen's legal status, NBC said, citing the four sources.
Gülen has a Green Card, according to two people familiar with the matter. He has been living in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s.
According to the report, one option the administration was considering was trying to force Gülen to relocate to South Africa.
Officials at the agencies had pushed back at the White House requests, NBC added.
"At first there were eye rolls, but once they realized it was a serious request, the career guys were furious," NBC News quoted a senior U.S. official as saying.