Turkish NBA star tweets 'you can't catch me' at arrest warrant report

By Ece Toksabay and Gina Cherelus
FILE PHOTO - Turkish NBA player Enes Kanter speaks about the revocation of his Turkish passport and return to the United States at National Basketball Players Association headquarters in New York, U.S. on May 22, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

By Ece Toksabay and Gina Cherelus

ANKARA/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Enes Kanter, the Turkish NBA star whose home country has revoked his passport, on Friday expressed disdain on social media at reports that Turkey's government had issued a warrant for his arrest.

"You can’t catch me. Don’t waste your breath. I will come on my own will anyway, to spit on your ugly, hateful faces," Kanter said in a Twitter post accompanied by a photo of a story by Turkish newspaper Sabah about the arrest warrant.

Kanter's agent, the National Basketball Association player's union and representatives for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kanter's team, did not respond to requests for comment.

Kanter, a vocal critic of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, was detained in Romania on May 20 when authorities learned his Turkish passport had been revoked. He returned to the United States on Sunday.

On Monday in New York, Kanter lashed out at Erdogan at a news conference, calling him the "Hitler of our century."

The 6-foot-11-inch center was traveling on a charity and promotional tour. He holds a U.S. green card that allows him to live and work in the country on a permanent basis.

Criticism of Erdogan has intensified since an April referendum made constitutional changes that gave the Turkish leader new powers in a move some called an authoritative power grab. On May 17, a street brawl erupted in Washington, D.C., between protesters and Turkish security personnel during Erdogan's visit to the U.S. capital.

Turkey blamed the violence on demonstrators, while the Washington police called it a "brutal attack" on peaceful protesters.

Turkey and the United States are close allies, cooperating in the fight against the group Islamic State.

The Sabah newspaper said on Friday that Kanter was named a "fugitive" by a Turkish court for his support of U.S-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. Erdogan is seeking Gulen's extradition for his alleged role in a failed coup last July, something Gulen has denied.

A representative of the prosecutor's office in Istanbul declined to comment and Turkey's Ministry of Justice was not available to comment. Officials with the Turkish embassy in Washington could not immediately be reached for comment.

The investigation of Kanter was reportedly coordinated and carried out by Istanbul prosecutors. The court's ruling had determined Kanter was allegedly a user of ByLock, a secure communication application for smartphones that was used by an organization in support of Gulen and supposedly during a failed coup against Erdogan last July, Sabah reported.

The court said Kanter was sharing messages praising the organization on social media and said he was called to testify multiple times but refused, making him a fugitive, according to the Turkish newspaper.

The prosecutor's office requested that the Justice Ministry contact officials to issue a red notice for Kanter, which would prevent him from traveling, Sabah reported.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing and additional reporting by Gina Cherelus; Editing by Dan Grebler)