Police arrested 35 suspects in an operation yesterday against the Gülenist Terror Group's (FETÖ) military infiltrators. Prosecutors in the capital Ankara ordered arrest warrants for 48 suspects, all active-duty members of the Turkish Air Force, and a manhunt was underway to capture the other suspects. Operations continue in Ankara and 16 other cities.
Authorities said the suspects' links to the terrorist group were discovered in an investigation into their contact with each other via public payphones, a common method employed by FETÖ suspects seeking to avoid detection. The suspects were all noncommissioned officers
The arrests came as Turkey marks the third anniversary of the July 15 coup attempt by FETÖ's military infiltrators. Since the coup attempt was foiled, police detained or arrested tens of thousands of people linked to the terrorist group, including military officers. Police carry out operations against the group almost daily countrywide. Elsewhere, prosecutors in the southeastern city of Mardin issued arrest warrants for 19 suspects for their links to the group. Operations were underway in 10 cities to capture the suspects, including businesspeople and journalists.
FETÖ, which was also behind two coup attempts in 2013, tried to seize power in 2016 when the state moved to start a purge of suspected Gülenists from the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). After the coup attempt was thwarted, hundreds of lawsuits were filed against the putschists. Yesterday, an appeals court upheld prison sentences for 99 putschist soldiers in a trial about the takeover of an Istanbul bridge during the coup bid. The 25th High Criminal Court in Istanbul sentenced 72 putschists to aggravated life imprisonment in July 2018 for the takeover of the bridge and the killing of civilians gathered there to confront the putschists.
Twelve soldiers were given additional aggravated life sentences for killings, while former Lt. Col. Turgay Ödemiş was handed down 35 instances of aggravated life imprisonment for killing 34 civilians and violating the Constitution. Forty-four soldiers, all conscripts, were acquitted. The jailed defendants have appealed the sentences.
Also yesterday, a court in Ankara refused to release jailed defendants in a significant case related to FETÖ. A total of 28 defendants were on trial over the 2016 murder of Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov. Karlov was murdered by an off-duty police officer associated with the terrorist group in an art gallery in Ankara on Dec. 19, 2016. The officer, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, was killed in a shootout with police. Several FETÖ figures were arrested following the assassination, and prosecutors accused FETÖ of orchestrating the murder plot. In yesterday's hearing, defendants denied the charges and appealed for their release.
Prosecutors say FETÖ sought to derail Turkish-Russian relations with the murder. The assassination occurred at a time of thaw between strained Turkish and Russian relations. Since the murder, Ankara and Moscow have gradually made progress in rebuilding their ties that were disrupted by the 2015 downing of a Russian fighter jet over the Syrian border by the Turkish military. The indictment accuses suspects of "violating the Constitution," a terror charge, and homicide. It includes digital evidence showing Altıntaş's connections to FETÖ. The evidence shows that Şahin Söğüt, his alleged handler for FETÖ, met Altıntaş 10 days before the assassination and on the same day, Altıntaş did online research about Russia. Other evidence shows connections between Özkan, the curator of the exhibition Karlov was attending at the time of his murder, and Şerif Ali Tekalan, a fugitive senior FETÖ member who is currently serving as a president of a U.S. university run by the terrorist group. Tekalan and Özkan had financial ties according to prosecutors.