5 Turkish pilots who thwarted putschists in 2016 suspended, detained over Gülen movement links

Five pilots who played a critical role in foiling a controversial coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016 have been suspended from duty, detained and questioned over their links to the Gülen movement, according to a report by the Cumhuriyet daily on Tuesday.

Accoridng to the report, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has deepened an investigation into alleged members of the Gülen movement, including the five pilots, identified as B.T., S.A., F.Ö., A.A. and A.O.U., who used fighter jets from airbases in Afyon, Eskişehir, Erzurum and Diyarbakır to confront the putschists and force their aircraft to land.

The five pilots, who were detained and questioned over their alleged Gülen links, were then released pending trial. The pilots, who also reportedly participated in military operations in Syria and northern Iraq, were suspended from duty.

The report stated that following the instructions of then-Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım “to force fighter jets in Ankara to land and shoot them down if necessary,” F-16 pilots S.A. and F.Ö. departed an airbase in Afyon and bombed Akıncı Airbase in Ankara, used by the putschists as a headquarters.

Following the thwarting of the coup attempt, a helicopter that was to move Gen. Akın Öztürk from Akıncı Airbase was hit by the same pilots, who also forced F-16 fighters flying over Ankara to land.

Also, an F-16 fighter jet that departed Erzurum flown by a pilot who was also later detained, identified as B.T., reportedly forced the landing of an F-16 fighter jet that bombed  an area near the presidential palace in Ankara.

An F-4 fighter jet, piloted by A.A., departed from Eskisehir and bombed Akıncı Airbase, which was under the control of the putschists, in order to prevent them from flying more fighter jets.

An F-16 fighter jet, flown by A.O.U., which departed an airbase in Diyarbakır, was also able to force down an F-16 fighter jet that bombed the Turkish Parliament.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey have been the subject of legal proceedings in the last two years on charges of membership in the Gülen movement since the coup attempt in July 2016, a Turkish Justice Ministry official told a symposium on July 19, 2018.

“Legal proceedings have been carried out against 445,000 members of this organisation,” Turkey’s pro-government Islamist news agency İLKHA quoted Turkish Justice Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ömer Faruk Aydıner as saying.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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