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'Untouchables' nabbed in raid

ISTANBUL - TDN with wire dispatches | 1/28/2008 12:00:00 AM |

A new chapter opens in the investigation into the 'Ergenekon' gang, which some claim is part of Turkey's deep state. 'The court decides that 13 suspects be arrested, among them Ret Gen Veli Küçük

After a record amount of time in Istanbul's 13th Criminal Court, eight alleged members of the “Ergenekon” gang – including a former top military commander – were arrested at the beginning of the weekend on charges of “provoking armed rebellion against the government.” With Saturday's arrests the total number of arrested has risen to 13. Among those arrested is Ret. Brig. General Veli Küçük, the alleged founder of the Gendarmerie Intelligence Anti-Terror Unit (JİTEM). Despite various allegations against him, Küçük has remained virtually untouchable for the last decade.

The crackdown follows a promise by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to eradicate clandestine hard-line nationalist groups that allegedly target people they consider to be a threat to the country's unity, The Associated Press said in a report.

Following a four-day police interrogation, the suspects were taken to court late Friday where they were interrogated by the prosecutor until 5 a.m. Saturday. They were then taken to appear in front of the judge by 5 p.m. on the same day, after which 13 of them, including Küçük, were arrested and imprisoned, according to newspaper reports yesterday.

High-profile names:

 Those arrested include Ret. Col. Fikri Karadağ, president of the “Kuvayi Milliye” (National Forces) Association, lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz, the public relations representative of the Turkish Orthodox Church, Sevgi Erenerol, and alleged mafia boss Sami Hoştan.

Kerinçsiz gained notoriety for leading campaigns against prominent intellectuals including novelists Orhan Pamuk, Elif Şafak and Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was murdered in January 2007.

Among detainees released on Friday was columnist Güler Kömürcü of daily Akşam, a lawyer, Fuat Turgut who defended an alleged instigator in the Dink murder and Ali Yasak, an alleged crime boss.

The suspects were all taken into custody after a police raid in Istanbul's Ümraniye district in June that uncovered dozens of hand grenades. The grenades were seized at the home of a retired, non-commissioned military officer.

The suspects were “preparing to assassinate a leading figure,” according to press reports. Mass-circulation daily Hürriyet said Nobel literature prize laureate Orhan Pamuk was on the “hit list,” while other newspapers reported that pro-Kurdish politicians Leyla Zana and Ahmet Türk were also targets of the shadowy organization.

Provoking a coup?:

The gang “hoped” that the chaos after those murders would provoke a military coup that would topple the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, according to various newspaper reports. Nationalists and ultra-nationalists accuse the government of having a hidden “Islamic agenda,” and for making too many concessions to the European Union.

A court has issued a news blackout on the investigation into the gang.

With the arrests Küçük became the third former – or actual – member of the powerful Turkish military to be imprisoned. Throughout the Republic's history only two other “pashas” have been arrested: The first one was General Mustafa Muğlalı, charged with ordering the killing of 32 Kurdish peasants who were caught smuggling goods from the Iranian border and accused of stealing livestock. The peasants were executed by a shooting squad on July 30, 1943. Muğlalı was tried at a military court three years later and was sentenced to 20 years of prison, but died in prison in 1951.

The second “pasha” to be put behind bars was Admiral İlhami Erdil, who was arrested last year on charges of illegal enrichment.

The Şemdinli bombing:

 Meanwhile, in an unusually harsh speech Saturday, a former lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) pointed to the many unresolved murder cases in the southeast.

 “The real Ergenekon are those that have killed people in the [southeast] region with identity cards given by the state itself,” Mesut Değer, a member of the CHP executive board, said during the party's district congress in Van, 1,250 kilometers east of Ankara.

“In the Şemdinli case, the accused were set free,” Değer was quoted as saying by the Doğan news agency, referring to another shadow case. “Now we see the start of the Ergenekon case. What is Ergenekon? They say it is defending the unity of the state. Are we aiming for something else? The real Ergenekon are those that have their signatures on many unsolved murders in this region,” he said.

The Şemdinli case takes its name from Hakkari's Şemdinli town, some 1,500 kilometers southeast of Ankara. On Nov. 9, 2005, a bookstore in the town belonging to a former member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) was bombed, leaving one person dead. Minutes after the attack locals caught the alleged criminals and handed them over to the police. The identities of the suspects created controversy, as two were active sergeants on duty and the third one was a former PKK confessor. On the same day, as CHP Hakkari deputy Esat Canan and a state prosecutor were mobilized to investigate the incident, they were fired upon and a second person was killed in this attack. Claiming clandestine state forces were on a killing spree, locals at various towns in Hakkari protested in the streets, and three more people were killed during clashes between the police and protesters.

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