The two men who were commanding the troops that were sent to assassinate President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during last year's July 15 coup attempt denied their links to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). This was the latest instance showing the defendants trying to distance themselves from the group. Prosecutors accused FETÖ's infiltrators for executing the coup that killed 250 people but most of the defendants in the coup trials claim they have no links to FETÖ despite strong evidence. Former Brig. Gen. Gökhan Şahin Sönmezateş, who is the only defendant to admit he knowingly joined the coup attempt, told a court in southwestern Turkey's Muğla yesterday that he has no links to FETÖ.
Sönmezateş was leading two teams of assassins, all soldiers from an elite army unit, on July 15, 2016 when they landed in the Marmaris district of Muğla where President Erdoğan and his family were on vacation. After receiving a tipoff, Erdoğan narrowly escaped the assassination bid shortly just minutes before his would-be killers arrived.
Sönmezateş had denied his links to the terrorist group and claimed he reported the two officers who accused him of being a FETÖ member as FETÖ members themselves to intelligence services two years ago. He also denied he was in an Ankara villa where top pro-coup generals and FETÖ's "civilian" senior figure Adil Öksüz met to discuss how to execute the coup last year.
Eyewitnesses who joined the meeting told the court earlier that Sönmezateş, a member of the military junta's Peace At Home Council, was in the villa with other generals. Former Maj. Şükrü Seymen who commanded the teams of assassins during the raid on the hotel where Erdoğan stayed, claimed he never used the two encrypted messaging apps found in his cellphones. One of the mentioned apps was used exclusively by FETÖ members but Seymen said he never even installed the apps on his cellphone even though a police investigation shows otherwise.
"I am not a FETÖ member, don't make me look like one," he told the court.
The coup trials in Turkey started last year and hundreds of officers, from lieutenants to generals, are being tried for the putsch bid. So far, only a few defendants acknowledged their links to FETÖ despite abundant evidence showing their meetings with FETÖ members. Most of the defendants have also avoided naming FETÖ as being behind the coup. The plaintiffs' lawyers say this is a defense strategy to vindicate the terrorist group, hoping that FETÖ will "liberate" them from prison.
FETÖ's leader Fetullah Gülen, who currently resides in Pennsylvania, is the prime suspect in the coup cases and faces life imprisonment. However, Gülen has abstained from attending the trials and Turkey has been actively seeking his extradition from the U.S. In related news, the Supreme Court of Appeals issued its first final verdict on the coup trials on Monday. The court, the highest legal authority in such cases, approved aggravated life sentences for staff Col. Murat Koçak and staff Maj. Murat Yılmaz who were tried in the eastern city of Erzurum in January for their role in the coup bid. The court declared that the coup attempt was the work of FETÖ members who infiltrated into the army "backed by international powers."