Çetin Sönmez, a judge who ordered the release of Adil Öksüz, the fugitive mastermind of the 2016 coup attempt, was sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison for membership of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). FETÖ is accused of using its infiltrators in the military to carry out the July 15, 2016 coup attempt that killed 250 people.
Appearing before a court in the capital Ankara, Sönmez denied charges against him. In earlier hearings, the defendant had claimed he did not "feel it was necessary" to keep Öksüz in custody as another judge had already imposed a travel ban on the suspect.
Öksüz, who was an assistant professor at Sakarya University, was released by a court in Ankara, despite the prosecutor's objection, saying that Öksüz was present at Akıncı Air Base, the "command center of the coup," although he was a civilian.
Referred to as the "black box" of FETÖ by the media, Öksüz acted as the terrorist group's point man for its infiltrators in the military. Eyewitness accounts and investigations show he gathered top military officers involved in the coup attempt in a villa in Ankara days before the coup attempt and together, they planned how to execute the coup plot.
"Our elder sends his greetings," he told those present at the villa, one of the officers who attended the meetings, would later tell a court, in reference to Fetullah Gülen, the fugitive leader of FETÖ who currently resides in the United States.
Öksüz was among several civilians captured in Akıncı and has claimed he was "checking out a plot of land" he planned to buy near the base. He was released hours later by the court that was presided by Sönmez and was last seen in Sakarya, the northwestern province he worked in.
A nationwide manhunt was launched to capture him but a police chief in charge of the manhunt, later detained for links to FETÖ, was accused of ignoring tip-offs for the capture of Öksüz. Media reports say he fled to Germany and was aided by fellow Gülenists giving him accommodation there. In 2013, Gülenists declared war on Turkey with three coup attempts, through their agents who infiltrated Turkish state institutions including the judiciary, police, military and civil service. After the 2016 coup attempt, Turkey launched a major crackdown on the group, arresting or detaining tens of thousands of people.
Yesterday, 17 out of 34 suspects with outstanding arrest warrants were detained in nationwide operations. All were military officers, save for nine secret "imams," a term used for civilian handlers of FETÖ infiltrators, like Adil Öksüz.
Two of the suspects were serving military officers while others were dismissed from the army on suspicion of links with the terrorist group.
Elsewhere, police in Edirne, a northwestern province bordering with Greece, captured five FETÖ suspects as they were trying to cross the border. The suspects were traveling by car when police stopped them. All had warrants for their links to FETÖ that were discovered during an investigation into ByLock, an encrypted messaging app exclusively used and developed by the terrorist group.