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US-based cleric, 269 others put on trial over bid to overthrow Turkish President Erdogan

Turkey has opened the biggest trial yet over the failed July coup aimed at ousting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, trying 270 suspects including, in absentia, the alleged mastermind Fethullah Gulen.

world Updated: Jan 30, 2017 20:30 IST
AFP
Turkey has opened trial over the failed July 2016 coup aimed at ousting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen is one of the main accused.
Turkey has opened trial over the failed July 2016 coup aimed at ousting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen is one of the main accused.(AFP File)

Turkey on Monday opened the biggest trial yet over the failed July 2016 coup aimed at ousting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, trying 270 suspects including, in absentia, the alleged mastermind Fethullah Gulen.

The suspects, 152 of whom are in pre-trial detention, include ex high-ranking military officials like former Aegean Army Command Chief of Staff Major General Memduh Hakbilen, the state news agency Anadolu reported.

Also going on trial was ex-NATO Land Commander Chief of Staff Major General Salih Sevil.

The “number one” suspect is US-based Islamic preacher Gulen, who is charged with ordering the failed July 15 coup, an accusation he strongly denies.

Ankara also accuses the movement Gulen leads of being a “terror organisation” although the group insists it is a peaceful organisation promoting moderate Islam.

Those on trial in the western city of Izmir face multiple charges including being a member of the “armed terror group”.

Turkey has repeatedly asked the United States to extradite Gulen, who has been living in self-imposed exile there since 1999.

The previous administration of Barack Obama had insisted that a possibly slow legal process should take its course but Ankara is hoping for a more eager response to its extradition request from new President Donald Trump.

Gulen previously went on trial in absentia in January last year over corruption allegations that hit Erdogan in 2013.

The Turkish justice ministry also sent new evidence to Washington for Gulen’s return including the indictment for the Izmir case, Anadolu reported on Monday.

The indictment includes witness statements alleging that Gulen was to be presented with the plans for the coup by Adil Oksuz for his approval, the agency added.

Turkish officials have said that theology lecturer Oksuz was the so-called “imam” of the plot and in charge of coordinating between Gulen and the army.

Oksuz was detained in the aftermath of the coup but then released and is now on the run.

‘Izmir: main plotting hub’

Other charges against the suspects include seeking to prevent parliament performing its duty as well as attempting to remove the constitutional order, the agency said.

The suspects face life imprisonment if convicted in a trial expected to take two months, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.

It said Izmir was believed to be one of the main plotting hubs of the coup with the Aegean city used as a “logistical base”.

Memduh was apparently to be declared Izmir’s “martial law commander” by the putschists, Anadolu reported at the time.

Turkish officers are escorted by Greek special police forces as they leave the Greek Supreme Court in Athens on January 23 after a hearing concerning a possible extradition of the officers over July's failed coup in Turkey. (AFP File)

Intensive security measures included a drone above the courthouse, bomb-sniffing dogs and commando units.

Previous trials have opened in Istanbul and smaller cases in other provinces in what is expected to be the largest legal process in the country’s history.

Some 43,000 people are under arrest ahead of trial in a large-scale crackdown within a state of emergency declared after the coup which remains in place.

On Monday, 10 more soldiers were arrested in connection with the Gulen movement, Anadolu reported.

In December, 29 police officers went on trial in Istanbul accused of failing to defend Erdogan while 62 rebel soldiers are being tried over claims they attempted to take over Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport on the night of July 15.