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Suspected Turkey Coup Leader Served as Military Attaché to Israel

General Akin Öztürk, who served as commander of Turkey's air force, was arrested Saturday in connection with the failed coup. At least five other generals were detained.

In this photo, Turkish Air Force General Akin Ozturk is seen on the far right.
In this photo, Turkish Air Force General Akin Ozturk is seen on the far right. Burhan Ozbilici, AP

Six senior army commanders were arrested in connection with the failed coup that began Friday night, including General Akin Öztürk, who in the 1990s was the Turkish military attaché to Israel, a Turkish official told reporters.

Öztürk, who later served as the commander of Turkey's air force, served in his country's Tel Aviv embassy from 1998 to 2000. The 64-year-old military figure stepped down as air force commander last year, but continued to serve on Turkey's Supreme Military Council.

Though now considered an archenemy of Turkish authorities, particularly of its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prior to Friday's coup attempt he was a celebrated military leader, boasting medals from his own air force as well as from NATO, the Israeli news website Ynet noted.

The Turkish prosecutor's office has announced that Gen. Öztürk and his alleged partners would be tried on charges of treason. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim reportedly told Turkish public television that the plotters would not be subject to the death penalty, since it is outlawed by the Turkish constitution, but added that constitutional changes would be considered in an effort to head off future coups.

Akın Öztürk
Wikicommons

At least five other generals were detained in connection with the coup, including the commander of the Second Army, General Adem Huduti, the most senior officer to be apprehended so far. The Second Army, based in Malatya, protects Turkey's borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran. The Malatya Garrison Commander Avni Angun, and the third army commander Erdal Öztürk were also detained, Hurriyet reported. 

A Turkish official said Saturday that those behind the attempted coup had been preparing for some time to overthrow the Turkish government. They had planned, for example, which military officers would take over as governors and as the heads of government agencies, the official said, but moved their plans forward due to an upcoming meeting of the Supreme Military Council, which convenes every August to consider military appointments and retirements.

Those behind the coup were concerned that they would be removed from their positions at next month's meeting, the official said. The coup planners' immediate goal, the official added, was to seize control of key locations, such as a bridge over the Bosphorus and Taksim Square in Istanbul and key institutions in the capital, Ankara, including the presidential palace, parliament and the intelligence agency. They also attempted to take over communications infrastructure and actually managed to seize telecommunications facilities in some locations, the official said.

Turkish police on Saturday also apprehended two members of the country's constitutional court, the most senior judicial figures among scores detained so far following the coup. At the same time, Turkish authorities have also arrested 10 members of the Council of State, the country's top administrative court, and are searching for 140 members of the court of cassation, broadcaster NTV reported. Turkish authorities ordered 2,745 judges and prosecutors to be detained.

Forces loyal to Turkey's government fought on Saturday to crush the last remnants of a military coup attempt which collapsed after crowds answered President Tayyip Erdogan's call to take to the streets and dozens of rebels abandoned their tanks.

One hundred and sixty-one people were killed, including many civilians, after a faction of the armed forces tried to seize power using tanks and attack helicopters. Some strafed the headquarters of Turkish intelligence and parliament in the capital, Ankara, and others seized a major bridge in Istanbul.

Erdogan accused the coup plotters of trying to kill him and launched a purge of the armed forces, which last used force to stage a successful coup more than 30 years ago.

One government minister said some military commanders were still being held hostage by the plotters. But the government declared the situation fully under control, saying 2,839 people had been rounded up from foot soldiers to senior officers, including those who had formed "the backbone" of the rebellion.