Coup-plotting soldiers go on trial for Erdoğan assassination attempt
DHA photoThe trial of more than 40 Turkish soldiers accused of attempting to assassinate President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during the July 2016 failed coup attempt started on Feb. 20.
Under tight security, the defendants were bussed in to a courthouse in Muğla, not far from the resort where Erdoğan and his family narrowly escaped the soldiers in a helicopter.
Forty-four suspects, mainly soldiers, are under arrest, while three others still on the run are being tried in absentia.
Prosecutors in Muğla charged 47 suspects, almost all of them soldiers, with multiple charges, including attempting to assassinate the president, breaching the constitution and membership in an armed terrorist organization, according to the indictment.
The suspects, who include Erdoğan’s former aide-de-camp, were wearing suits when they were brought from prison to the courthouse. They were met by a crowd of some 200 people waving flags and calling for their execution, Reuters reported.
“We want the death penalty. Let the hand that tried to harm our chief be broken,” said one of the protesters, 61-year-old Zuhal Ayhan, referring to Erdoğan.
The area around the courthouse was cordoned off and patrolled by dozens of security force members, including police and special forces. A police helicopter circled overhead and police snipers watched from the rooftop of the building.
The courthouse in Muğla was too small to handle the number of defendants and authorities said the trial was being heard at the conference room of the chamber of commerce next door.
According to the indictment, some 37 soldiers were charged with having a direct role in the storming of the luxury Grand Yazıcı Club Turban, while others allegedly provided assistance.
The soldiers in helicopters descended on the hotel in Marmaris on ropes just after Erdoğan had left.
During the hearing, lawyers who were assigned to defend the main suspect in the case, the U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, and several other suspects did not want to defend their clients. The head of the court, Emirşah Baştoğ, said that the issue concerning the lawyers, who were assigned by the Muğla Bar, would be solved in the following days. New lawyers will be assigned for the lawyers who recused.
Baştoğ also said the trial would continue for four days and that a break would be given on Feb. 24 before resuming on Feb. 28. The initial phase should last until March 15.
Speaking during the hearing, the second main suspect in the case, Gökhan Şahin Sönmezateş, said he received the order from Semih Terzi, a special ops commander in charge of operations on the Syrian border who was shot dead during the failed coup attempt.
“I received the order from Semih Terzi. I didn’t give information to the flight team. When I said ‘TSK seized power’ the flight team was near the helicopter. I told them that the order came from the General Staff. I only gave the coordinates to the team. All the people in the team received the orders from their own commanders. If we had known about this, we wouldn’t have gone on duty, including me,” he said.
Sönmezateş was allegedly planning to become the head of the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) if the coup had been carried out.
“I’m not a FETÖ member,” Sönmezateş told the court, as he added that all who “run into trouble give his name,” while denying all charges.
Sönmezateş said they went to Marmaris in order to bring Erdoğan to Ankara and not to kill him.
“I didn’t meet with Erdoğan’s aide-de-camp. If I had planned this issue, we would either be successful or I would have canceled the mission. I don’t believe that Fethullah Gülen is a messiah or a prophet. That’s a perverted thought. I now want to find the answer to ‘who tricked us and who made us wait for four hours?’ I take full responsibility, but I don’t accept responsibility for the places I wasn’t at,” he said.
Saying he thought that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) was staging a coup within the army’s chain of command, Sönmezateş said Gülenist “imams” held a meeting in a house in Ankara before the thwarted coup but that he was not there.