Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkey's PM Recep Tayyip ErdoganReuters

The row between Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fethullah Gülen, an influential cleric in self-imposed exile in the US, is heating up again.

The reclusive Muslim cleric has hit back at the prime minister's direct attack on his eponymous Gülen movement, which has extensive influence in the Turkish police and judiciary.

The movement was allegedly behind the wave of high-profile arrests that shook the moderate-Islamist government.

Gülen said: "God sees who is in a lair. Seeing the narrowness of some people, who want to spend their lives in that narrowness in order not to beg from people or not to be unfair to others, as a lair means not knowing what a lair is."

Turkish police chiefs ordered the arrests on corruption charges of 47 high-profile politicians and businessmen, including the sons of three cabinet ministers. The police chiefs were sacked after the scandal came out.

Nearly 70 senior officers were fired or moved from their posts in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities in Turkey. They included the heads of the financial crime and organised crime units.

Earlier, Erdogan vowed to continue the crackdown on investigators behind the bribery case, saying that the government would pull apart the "lairs" of these people.

"Those who want to establish a parallel structure alongside the state, those who have infiltrated into the state institutions [...] we will come into your lairs and we will lay out these organisations within the state," he said.

Tensions between the reclusive Muslim cleric - who commands a global empire of media outlets, private schools and charities - and Erdogan have boiled over in recent months. The Turkish government had announced plans to outlaw private schools, including those run by the Gülen movement.

From his golden retreat in Pennsylvania, Gülen "strongly denied" allegations that the latest Turkish probe was launched as part of a rift between the government and Hizmet (The Service) – another name for the movement.

Over the past months, however, the cleric has made veiled criticisms of Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian style.

After the government reacted to the graft probe with the overhaul of police forces and threats to judiciary and media, Gülen accused Erdogan of ignoring the corruption charges and going after the investigators instead.

"Those who don't see the thief but go after those who chase the thief [...] May Allah bring fire to their homes," Gülen said.

Fethullah Gulen
Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen is pictured at his residence in Saylorsburg, PennsylvaniaReuters