Nine former military officers and a teacher accused of instructing them on how to act during the 2016 failed coup attempt by the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), were sentenced to life by a court in northwestern Turkey yesterday.
Defendants were among 15 on trial for attempting to take over a data center run by Turkcell, one of leading cellphone operators in the country during the coup attempt.
They were caught after their attempt to cut off communications at the center located in Kocaeli failed.
The Fourth High Criminal Court in Kocaeli sentenced Capt. Abdülkadir Öz and teacher Vedat Çetin to aggravated life sentences and handed down life sentences to eight others. Three others were sentenced to prison terms ranging between one year and three years while one defendant was acquitted.
A separate trial will be held for Maj. Ümit İpek, the highest-ranking officer in the trial who remains at large after he fled following the failure of the coup attempt.
FETÖ, which had expanded its clout in Turkey over the past three decades, is known for its wide network of infiltrators in law enforcement, the military, judiciary and bureaucracy. Through its infiltrators in the police and judiciary, it first tried to topple the government in 2013 by implicating people close to the government in an anti-graft probe with trumped-up evidence and false charges. Then, on July 15, 2016, weeks before a council would decide on the fate of FETÖ-linked officers, it tried to seize power with its infiltrators in the military.
An unprecedented public resistance helped anti-coup police and troops to fight back but the putschists killed 251 people and wounded hundreds of others in nationwide attacks - from the bombing of the presidential complex to assault on a group of unarmed civilians who had gathered on an Istanbul bridge to confront the putschists in the area.
Abdülkadir Öz was the commander of the gendarme base in Gebze where Turkcell's data center is located when the coup attempt took place. He commanded a group of troops heading to the center but they were stopped by a crowd of citizens at the entrance.
In a fervent speech, Öz managed to convince the crowd that they were not on the side of the putschists and urged the crowd to stage "a pro-democracy rally elsewhere." Once the crowd dispersed, Öz and his troops stormed the data center. Their attempt failed anyway as the data center was not functional at the time.
Vedat Çetin, the only non-military defendant in the case, was accused by one of the defendants - whose sentence was reduced in return for his collaboration with authorities - of organizing a "coup meeting" with military officers ahead of July 15.
A.A., one of the defendants who confessed his ties to FETÖ, told the court in earlier hearings that Çetin instructed him and a few other officers of "following the orders" of an officer who would later arrive in the house they met for the coup planning meeting. A.A. identified Abdülkadir Öz as that officer. "Öz told us we had an easy task referring to the raid on Turkcell. We were supposed to finish the job within a few hours," A.A. said in an earlier statement.
Since the coup attempt was quelled, Turkey has detained tens of thousands of people linked to the attempt and hundreds are on trial for direct involvement in the attempt. Most trials are expected to wrap up by the end of this year.
The Justice Ministry recently announced that there were 32,370 people being held and incarcerated in FETÖ cases and 289 trials directly related to the coup attempt. Some 203 trials were already concluded. A total of 2,619 people have been found guilty, and 1,760 have been sentenced to life imprisonment in the coup trials held across the country so far.
A total of 803 of the accused, including a general and commissioned and noncommissioned officers, were sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Some 957 others were sentenced to life imprisonment with 859 sentenced to prison terms ranging from one year and two months to 20 years.