Key figures of coup attempt remain elusive three years on

Published 15.07.2019 00:07
People try to stop a tank dispatched by putschists in Ankara’s Kızılay Square on July 15, 2016. Ali Kalyoncu, one of the fugitives, is accused of dispatching tanks  to Ankara’s streets against anti-coup civilians.
People try to stop a tank dispatched by putschists in Ankara’s Kızılay Square on July 15, 2016. Ali Kalyoncu, one of the fugitives, is accused of dispatching tanks to Ankara’s streets against anti-coup civilians.

From generals to colonels, putschists involved in the 2016 coup attempt continue to evade justice three years after the coup bid, with no information about their possible whereabouts

Important figures that ordered the killings of civilians and orchestrated stages of the coup attempt remain at large on the third anniversary of the putsch bid.

When tanks were cornered, military bases sealed shut and roads were closed by anti-coup forces, putschists had little option but to surrender in the early hours of July 16, 2016. Police and anti-coup officers managed to round up a majority of those involved in the attempt with a thorough search of their hideouts inside military bases or as they were about to flee. Other fugitives were captured within days in nationwide operations. Still, several key figures in the coup attempt disappeared after the attempt. Some are believed to have fled abroad upon sensing that the coup was doomed to fail though little came out of investigations into their likely whereabouts.

Brig. Gen. Ali Kalyoncu is among the fugitives. A member of the Peace At Home Council, which was behind the coup attempt, Kalyoncu was commander of the soldiers terrorizing the capital Ankara on July 15, 2016. He was assigned as "deputy martial law commander for Ankara" by putschists and commander of the 28th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, a key military unit with a large arsenal of tanks and armored vehicles. Kalyoncu was serving as head of the staff department at the Land Forces Command at the time of the coup attempt. He was among seven military officers who met in a house in Ankara four days before the attempt to plan how to act during the bid. Those officers were tasked by the Peace At Home Council to invade government and public offices and critical locations in Ankara with tank troops during the coup attempt. Murat Yanık, one of the military officers who met Kalyoncu in that house, was among the captured putschists. He told prosecutors after his capture that he was unaware of a planned coup at first and found out about it when Kalyoncu and others told him that they would "seize power." Yanık said they made detailed plans for hours on a map of Ankara. "They talked about where [28th Mechanized Infantry Brigade] would control in Ankara and where troops would be deployed. They divided Ankara in two and assigned control of half to the brigade and the other half to the Armored Units Command," he said.

Kalyoncu and another general went to the Mechanized Infantry Brigade on July 15, 2016, to assume command, and with the aid of other putschist troops, he succeeded. His first order was to invade places he spoke about in a pre-coup meeting. Acting upon Kalyoncu's orders, a lieutenant colonel led tanks to the army's headquarters in Ankara's Çankaya district, while another lieutenant colonel commanded troops attacking police headquarters in Ankara. Another officer would lead troops invading the headquarters of the Gendarmerie. Troops acting upon orders of Kalyoncu killed 16 people including police officers and injured 265 others.

Investigations following the coup attempt disclosed how the brigadier general coordinated efforts to seize power on behalf of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). Correspondence over WhatsApp between Kalyoncu and other military officers show he sanctioned strikes on any place where resistance existed. "Ejder, pull back. Air Force will intervene to police (headquarters)," he writes to a lieutenant colonel dispatched to seize police headquarters. As public resistance against the putschists intensified, Kalyoncu wrote to a fellow putschist to shoot "any citizen" in the path of tanks and armored vehicles. In another exchange of messages, an officer asks assistance from Kalyoncu upon facing "a large crowd and heavy equipment." Anti-coup crowds used bulldozers and other large vehicles to block roads against tanks. Kalyoncu asks him what he needs and when the officer asks for "air support," Kalyoncu pledges to dispatch aircraft and helicopters, along with extra munitions for troops on the ground.

Osman Ünlü, a fellow putschist general who was arrested following the attempt, told police that Kalyoncu "never gave up his desire to seize power until the very last moment." "He told me that he would kill himself rather than surrender," Ünlü said after his capture. The brigadier general disappeared after the coup was suppressed and is believed to have fled abroad. He faces multiple aggravated life sentences in coup trials.


Col. Tevfik Gök was a top aide at the Ministry of National Defense during the coup attempt but he had a very different task on July 15. Gök collected information about who had the keys to critical places inside army headquarters and the shift changes of guards at the headquarters to help the putschists and personally escorted tanks to the headquarters during the coup attempt.

Gök was at the Mechanized Infantry Brigade base commanded by Ali Kalyoncu on July 15 and drove to army headquarters. He helped putschist officers to coordinate the takeover of the headquarters and stayed there until the early hours of July 16, before fleeing. A search of computers in his office and home disclosed his links to FETÖ. Gök had videos of FETÖ leader Fetullah Gülen as well as notes associated with the terrorist group. "You can do takiye to accomplish the goal," one note says, referring to the term used for disguise to avoid detection of his links to the terrorist group. A note, believed to be sent by Gülen to FETÖ's infiltrators in the army, was also found in Gök's computer. The note says "set up alliance with anyone" against "The Tall Man," a term used to refer to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. "We prayed for his death for three years, and he is still alive," the note says.

Another note says, "Thousands of soldiers are ready to be martyrs." "We have information about everyone, from governors to judges. Do everything you can to have them bow down to you, be it blackmail, sex tapes or threats. Prime minister, others resist us because they don't think that our day will come," it also says.


Serhat Pahsa, a noncommissioned officer, was serving as a guard for Hulusi Akar, chief of general staff at the time of the coup attempt. Like Gök, he coordinated the takeover of the Army headquarters where Akar and other top military brass were abducted by putschists. An investigation following the coup attempt revealed Pahsa was one of the most active infiltrators of FETÖ in the army. He wiretapped the office of Akar and delivered audio recordings to Muhammet Uslu, a senior FETÖ member, investigations found.

Pahsa arrived at army headquarters in civilian clothes on July 15 and helped putschists from Special Forces enter the headquarters. Special Forces troops loyal to putschists were tasked with kidnapping Akar and other generals. Before Akar's abduction, Pahsa personally oversaw the "arrest" of Salih Zeki Çolak, the head of the Land Forces Command, as the latter entered the headquarters. Security camera footage shows Pahsa was also at the crime scene when two anti-coup civilians who entered the headquarters to confront the putschists were gunned down. Pahsa later helped other troops kidnap Akar. When the coup attempt was suppressed, Pahsa was nowhere to be seen, and it was found that he and another officer changed clothes and snuck out of the headquarters in the early hours of July 16. He left behind a computer where notes with instructions from Gülen were found. "Bright days are ahead," a note by Gülen reads. His computer also had private information about generals, apparently secretly collected by FETÖ infiltrators in the army. Pahsa faces multiple life sentences for his involvement in the killing of 12 people.


Col. İlhami Polat was a senior officer at the Land Forces Military School, a prestigious military school in the capital Ankara, on July 15. Polat is accused of organizing the takeover of the school by putschists and abduction of the school's commander Gen. İzzettin Çetingöz. Polat and two unidentified civilians met at his home on the morning of the coup attempt day to plan their role in the attempt. A few hours before the attempt unfolded, he ordered all personnel to military school. Polat had changed the shifts of guards and ordered additional troops to the school, barring any entry to the place. Çetingöz was unaware of a coup attempt when Polat asked him for "help about some incidents outside." Çetingöz left his room and went to the spot Polat asked him to come, only to be held by putschist soldiers. Polat would tell him that he and others "seized power." Polat later appointed another putschist general as the new commander of the school. Two men then took control of other troops, telling them that the army seized power for "martial law." His next action was sending troops to capture the headquarters of Türk Telekom, the country's main telecoms provider. He also dispatched troops to army headquarters to help the putschist takeover there. Like other fugitives, Polat disappeared in the early hours of July 16, when the coup was being suppressed.

His wife Suzan Polat, a judge, would later tell interrogators about the colonel's intimate links with FETÖ. Suzan, who married the colonel upon orders of senior FETÖ members, said İlhami Polat would often attend meetings with the terrorist group's civilian members and would occasionally take her to some meetings. According to her testimony, İlhami Polat came home "in a hurry" after the coup attempt was quelled, and later, they went to a safe house belonging to FETÖ.

"He told me he would either surrender or flee and later dropped me by a taxi. His last words were 'forgive me. I had to do it. Fetullah Gülen ordered me to do so'," Suzan Polat told interrogators.


Col. Uzay Şahin was commander of a gendarme garrison in the southern city of Kahramanmaraş when the coup unfolded. A participant in meetings by putschists in Istanbul days before July 15, Şahin was tasked with acting as a liaison officer to coordinate the Istanbul leg of the attempt. On July 15, he and two other officers came to a key military base in Istanbul to aid in the city's takeover. He ordered the abduction of Gen. Tahir Bekiroğlu, commander of military schools. He telephoned deputy police chiefs in Istanbul, pretending to be an aide to Erdal Öztürk, a general in charge of key military units in Istanbul and told them martial law was declared and police should obey the orders of troops. Şahin also instructed troops from the nearby cities of Edirne and Kırklareli to come to help putschists in Istanbul when the latter faced resistance. His WhatsApp messages to other putschists show his active role in the attempt's Istanbul leg. "Mürsel shut down the bridge. Police should not pass," a message to a putschist officer reads. Another message reads "free fire" against civilians. "Shoot those outside the [Justice and Development Party] AKP building," he orders in another message, referring to anti-coup crowd gathered outside the party's Istanbul office. "Someone should silence the TVs," another message by Şahin reads, in reference to TV stations broadcasting anti-coup messages by the country's leaders.

When the putschists started losing ground in places in Istanbul that they controlled, Şahin ordered all troops to stand their ground before he fled.


Brig. Gen. Mehmet Nail Yiğit was the commander of an Armored Brigade in Istanbul on July 15. He joined a meeting to plan the Istanbul leg of the coup attempt one day before it started and was assigned as "deputy Istanbul commander" by putschists. He ordered the arrest of prominent figures, from former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to then Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş. Yiğit is regarded as one of key figures that planned every stage of the coup attempt in Istanbul, from the occupation of various venues to how to respond to any resistance. A notebook found in his office had a number of personnel in Istanbul military units and where they would be deployed. Yiğit is currently on the Interior Ministry's most wanted list.


Capt. Burkay Karatepe was part of the 37-member team of assassins sent to take out President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by putschists. Erdoğan was on vacation in a hotel in the southwestern province of Muğla on July 15, 2016, and left the premises before the assassins arrived, after hearing a coup was underway. Karatepe and others killed two police officers at the hotel before fleeing. In the days following the assassination attempt, all would-be assassins were captured in the countryside in Muğla while in hiding, but Karatepe was nowhere to be found. An investigation found out that Karatepe changed clothes and left Marmaris for the western city of İzmir where the team departed from. From İzmir he traveled to Eskişehir, and from there he left for Kütahya. Since then, he has remained on the run despite a massive manhunt. Karatepe was a well-trained soldier who specialized in hiding and was previously stationed in conflict zones like Afghanistan and authorities believe his past experience helped him cover his tracks. An international arrest warrant was also issued for Karatepe as authorities think he fled abroad.

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