Turkish F-16s Patrol Skies Days After Failed Coup

ANKARA, Turkey (AP/Reuters) -
Military personnel, suspected of being involved in the coup attempt, are escorted by policemen as they arrive at the Justice Palace in Ankara, Turkey, July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Military personnel, suspected of being involved in the coup attempt, are escorted by policemen as they arrive at the Justice Palace in Ankara, Turkey, Monday. (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

Warplanes patrolled Turkey’s skies days after a failed coup, officials said Monday, in a sign that authorities feared that the threat against the government was not yet over.

A senior official said F-16 jets guarded the Turkish airspace overnight, after a faction within the military launched an attempted coup late Friday against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.

The state-run news agency, Anadolu Agency, said Erdogan ordered the overnight patrol by F-16s “for the control of the airspace and security.”

The coup plotters sent warplanes firing on key government installations and tanks rolling into major cities, but the rebellion — which was not supported by the military’s top brass — was quashed by loyal government forces and masses of civilians who took to the streets. At least 294 people were killed and more than 1,400 wounded in the rebellion that took the government — and much of the world — by surprise.

The government moved swiftly in the wake of the coup to shore up its power and remove those perceived as enemies, detaining some 6,000 people including a number of generals.

Officials removed 8,000 police across the country, widening a purge of the armed forces and judiciary after a failed military coup, and raising concern among European allies that it was abandoning the rule of law.

A senior security official told Reuters 8,000 police officers, including in the capital Ankara and the biggest city Istanbul, had been removed from their posts on suspicion of links to the coup bid.

Thirty regional governors and more than 50 high-ranking civil servants have also been dismissed, CNN Turk said.

Thousands of members of the armed forces, from foot soldiers to commanders, were rounded up on Sunday. Several thousand prosecutors and judges have also been removed.

As the Cabinet prepared to meet for its first regular session since the attempt, security forces continued raiding military facilities in search of suspected plotters. They searched the Air Force Academy premises and residences in Istanbul early on Monday, Anadolu reported. It was not clear if any arrests were made.

The crackdown targeted not only generals and soldiers, but a wide swath of the judiciary that has sometimes blocked Erdogan, raising concerns that the effort to oust him will push Turkey even further into authoritarian rule.

The failed coup and the subsequent crackdown followed moves by Erdogan to reshape both the military and the judiciary. He had indicated a shake-up of the military was imminent and had also taken steps to increase his influence over the judiciary.

It is not clear how the post-coup purge will affect the judiciary, how the government will move to replace the dismissed judges and prosecutors, or where the trials for those detained would be held.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus defended the crackdown on judiciary officials in an interview with CNN Turk, saying many of them would have played a role had the coup attempt succeeded.

“All of these (judiciary officials) did not necessarily have first-degree knowledge about this pro-junta initiative. Had they succeeded (with the coup) it is clear that these people would have been included into this business. Therefore, anyone connected to this group will be exposed.”

The government alleged that the coup conspirators were loyal to moderate U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan has often accused of trying to overthrow the government.

Yildirim said those involved with the failed coup “will receive every punishment they deserve.” Erdogan suggested that Turkey might reinstate capital punishment, which was abolished in 2004 as part of the country’s bid to join the European Union.

Even before the weekend chaos in Turkey, the NATO member and key Western ally in the fight against the Islamic State group had been wracked by political turmoil that critics blamed on Erdogan’s increasingly heavy-handed rule. He has shaken up the government, cracked down on dissent, restricted the media and renewed fighting with Kurdish rebels.

Gulen, who lives in Saylorsburgh, Pennsylvania, espouses a philosophy that blends a mystical form of Islam with democracy. He is a former Erdogan ally turned bitter foe who has been put on trial in absentia in Turkey, where the government has labeled his movement a terrorist organization. He strongly denies the government’s charges.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would entertain an extradition request for Gulen, but Turkey would have to present “legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny.” So far, officials have not offered evidence he was involved.