General, 9 others sentenced to life for 2016 FETÖ coup attempt

People take over a tank occupied by pro-coup troops near the Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge on July 15, 2016.

Turkey wrapped up another week of trials on the July 15, 2016 putsch attempt blamed on the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) with life sentences handed down to those involved in the bid. A brigadier general and six other officers were sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment, while another four were given life imprisonment for the attempt. All of the defendants were pro-coup soldiers stationed in Ağrı, an eastern province. The court in the province also sentenced four more defendants to 12 years and six months in prison in the same case. The defendants included Mehmet Ozan, a brigadier general of the First Armored Brigade deployed in the Doğubeyazıt district on the Turkish-Iranian border.

They denied the allegations throughout the hearings and claimed they were "following the orders of their superiors."

On July 15, 2016, Ozan threatened to arrest provincial Governor Musa Işın when the governor telephoned him to find out if he was working with coup plotters. The general told the governor he had been appointed Ağrı's "martial law commander" by the army. As the insurrection unfolded, thousands poured into the streets, surrounding the governorate and other public buildings to prevent their takeover by putschists. Within hours, police officers captured pro-coup military officers, including Ozan, who were daunted by the strong public resistance to the attempt. Some 249 people standing against the attempt were killed across Turkey that night. Along with the life sentence, Ozan was sentenced to four years and six months for threatening the governor.

More coup-related trials were underway when Daily Sabah went to print Friday. Earlier last week, 64 former officers were sentenced to life in the capital Ankara for the coup attempt at the Land Forces Military School. More than 300 people have been sentenced in coup trials since they began in late 2016. Since the coup attempt, tens of thousands of people have been arrested or detained for suspected links to the coup attempt and FETÖ. More trials are expected to wrap up later this year, while the main trial on the takeover of the office of the Chief of General Staff, in which 221 defendants are being tried, is still underway. FETÖ is accused of orchestrating multiple coup attempts in Turkey, and its members face terrorism charges. According to prosecutors, the group used its infiltrators in the military to run the coup attempt, overseen by its nonmilitary point men. Led by its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gülen, the group long disguised itself as a religious charity before moving to seize power in Turkey with two coup attempts in 2013 using its infiltrators in law enforcement and the judiciary. After the 2013 attempts, Turkey designated it a national threat and escalated a crackdown on the group.

Prosecutors say coup plotters established the Peace at Home Council that oversaw the attempt. The council was comprised of generals and other high-ranking military officers under the instruction of a senior Gülenist named Adil Öksüz. Currently at large, Öksüz, who served as a theology lecturer at a university before the coup attempt, held meetings with senior figures involved in the bid to plan the attempt. According to indictments, Öksüz, who was captured at a military base in Ankara used as a putschist command center, was the terrorist group's point man, overseeing infiltrators in the military. He was controversially released hours after the insurrection attempt was quelled and is believed to have fled abroad.

Apart from coup-related trials, hundreds are being tried for membership of the terrorist group. In the southern city of Adana, a former judge was sentenced to six years in prison for FETÖ membership. Özgür Yıldız was accused of association with the group and being a user of Bylock, an encrypted messaging app exclusively used by the terrorist group for communicating Gülen's orders to his followers. Two police officers were sentenced to six and seven years on similar charges also in Adana in a separate trial. In Hatay, another southern city, Serkan Gölge, a U.S. citizen of Turkish origin, was sentenced to seven years and six months in prison for FETÖ membership.

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