Kidnapped by putschists, general recalls the moments in coup trial

DAILY SABAH
ANKARA
Published

Retired General Salih Zeki Çolak, who was Land Forces Commander when officers linked to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) moved to seize power during the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, told a court yesterday how he was kidnapped by putschists and talked about the "sinister looks" of a pro-coup officer.

In chilling moments captured by security cameras, Çolak was assaulted by putschist officers during the coup attempt when he arrived at army headquarters in the capital Ankara. His bodyguard was killed by putschists, while resisting the attempt; Çolak was taken to a military base where he was held hostage with Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar.

Retired from the army after the coup attempt, Çolak attended as a plaintiff the trial of 221 defendants in Ankara who are charged with attempting to take over the Office of Chief of General Staff.

The former general was flown to the capital Ankara on July 15, 2016, after attending a military ceremony in Istanbul. Accompanying him was Akın Öztürk, another general. At that time, Çolak did not know that Öztürk, who was later captured in the base where Çolak was held hostage, was actually a leader of the putschists. "He told me he was going to Ankara to see his grandchildren," he told the court. Çolak said he only learned that something unusual was happening when an officer, apparently a regretful putschist, told his superiors that some officers would board a helicopter and would "take" the head of the country's intelligence service. Hulusi Akar sent Çolak to the base where the helicopter would supposedly take off. "We only knew that there would be an unauthorized flight at that time," he said. After spotting nothing unusual, he returned to army headquarters after Levent Türkkan, an aide to Akar who later turned out to be one of putschists, told him on the phone that Akar was waiting for him at the office. "I saw soldiers from Special Forces at the headquarters and later heard gunshots. A soldier told me to ‘enter quickly.' When I entered, soldiers jumped from behind the pillars at the entrance. ‘Don't move, we are doing this for your safety' they shouted. Of course, this is not something you would do if you want to protect someone. They were pressing my head on the floor, and then they handcuffed me and took me to the second floor. It was there I saw Bünyamin Tuner (a putschist officer). I can't forget his looks. He looked so sinister," he said, referring to the putschist officer who held him in that room before Çolak was taken to Akıncı air base, a command center of the putschists. Çolak and other anti-coup military officers were then whisked to a helicopter that took them to Akıncı. "We were locked up in a room. I only realized that we were in Akıncı upon hearing the constant noise of aircraft. Our abductors were rough. They were spouting threats. ‘We have you, we will soon have the president and prime minister,' they said," Çolak recounted. Çolak and others were rescued by anti-coup groups in the early hours of July 16.

FETÖ is accused of orchestrating multiple coup attempts in Turkey including the one in 2016 that killed 249 people. 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. The terrorist group faces almost daily operations targeting its members across Turkey.

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