Turkish court hands dozens of aggravated life sentences in 2016 coup plot trial
A Turkish court on Nov. 26 handed dozens of aggravated life sentences in the most high-profile trial into the July 15, 2016 failed coup attempt. Four ringleaders, dubbed "civilian imams" over ties to Gülen's network, were given 79 aggravated life sentences for charges of attempting to assassinate the president, murder, and seeking to overthrow the constitutional order.
A Turkish court handed down dozens of life sentences on Nov. 26 for some of the nearly 500 defendants, including army commanders and pilots, accused of leading a 2016 coup attempt from an airbase near the capital Ankara.
More than 250 people were killed and scores of others were wounded on July 15, 2016, when putschist soldiers commandeered warplanes, helicopters, and tanks and sought to take control of state institutions and overthrow the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The Akıncı Airbase was used by the coup plotters as a command center to coordinate attacks, including by fighter jets that bombed parliament and the presidential complex. The base was later renamed as Mürted Airbase.
The trial was the highest-profile of dozens of court cases targeting thousands of people accused of involvement in the coup attempt, which is widely believed to have orchestrated by U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.
Former air force commander Akın Öztürk and others at the Akıncı Airbase near Ankara were accused of directing the coup and bombing government buildings, including parliament, and attempting to kill Erdoğan.
Four ringleaders, dubbed "civilian imams" over ties to Gülen's network, which is officially called the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), were given 79 aggravated life sentences on charges of attempting to assassinate the president, murder, and seeking to overthrow the constitutional order.
According to the indictment, these four "imams," Kemal Batma, Hakan Çiçek, Nurettin Oruç and Harun Biniş, as well as the fugitive Adil Öksüz, operated in the group's civilian wing, making preparations for the coup after getting the green light from Gülen.
F-16 warplane pilots were also among those given aggravated life sentences - the severest punishment in Turkish courts - meaning there is no possibility of parole. Former pilot lieutenant colonel Hasan Hüsnü Balıkçı, who bombed parliament during the attempted coup, is among them.
Former fighter pilot Müslim Macit, who killed 15 people near the presidential complex during the coup attempt, received 16 aggravated life sentences.
The court also sentenced former lieutenant Mustafa Mete Kaygusuz, who sent the bombing instructions to the F-16 jets hijacked by the putschists during the coup attempt, to 79 aggravated life sentences.
Former İncirlik 10th Tanker Base Commander Bekir Ercan Van, who provided fuel to the pilots, was also handed 79 aggravated life sentences.
Turkey's then-military chief and now Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and other commanders were held captive for several hours at the base on the night of the attempted coup. A total of 475 people were on trial, 365 of them in custody.
Gülen, who was once an ally of Erdoğan, was one of six defendants being tried in absentia. Their dossiers were separated from the main trial, media reports said.
Four years on, police operations targeting Gülenists continue on a regular basis.