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In one of the most prominent cases related to the plot to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 337 ex-pilots and other suspects were sentenced to life in prison.
A Turkish court has jailed 337 former pilots and other suspects for life, including former top-ranking officials in the military, over a plot to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a failed coup attempt four years ago, a court document obtained by AFP news agency showed on Thursday.
Nearly 500 defendants were accused of carrying out the attempt to overthrow the government on July 15, 2016, from an airbase near the capital Ankara. More than 250 people were killed in the effort as rogue soldiers commandeered warplanes, helicopters, and tanks in a bid to take control of key state institutions.
The trial was the highest-profile of dozens of court cases targeting thousands of people accused of involvement in the coup attempt, which Ankara blamed on the supporters of the United States-based Muslim preacher and businessman, Fethullah Gulen. Gulen, 79, once an ally of Erdogan, has denied any role in the coup, was one of the six defendants being tried in absentia.
A total of 475 defendants were on trial, 365 of them in custody. Out of the 337 life sentences given, 291 were aggravated life sentences – the most severe punishment in Turkish courts – meaning there is no possibility of parole, state news agency Anadolu said. The agency also reported at least 25 F-16 pilots were given aggravated life sentences.
#UPDATE A Turkish court on Thursday jailed 337 former pilots and other suspects for life in one of the largest trials stemming from the bloody 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan https://t.co/DeYlO6q9lK
Former air force commander Akin Ozturk and others at the Akinci air base near Ankara were accused of directing the coup and bombing government buildings, including Parliament, and attempting to kill Erdogan. 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 coup.
Four ringleaders, dubbed "civilian imams" over ties to Gulen's network, were given 79 aggravated life sentences for charges of attempting to assassinate the president, murder, and seeking to overthrow the constitutional order. At the same time, seventy people were acquitted, Anadolu said.
Turkey, a NATO member, and candidate for European Union membership, declared a state of emergency after the failed coup and carried out a large-scale crackdown, alarming Ankara's Western allies.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu reported that some 292,000 people had been detained over alleged links to Gulen since the coup attempt, nearly 100,000 of them jailed pending trial. Some 150,000 civil servants were sacked or suspended after the coup, with some 20,000 expelled from the military. Courts have handed down more than 2,500 life sentences.
Four years on, police operations targeting suspects accused of links to Gulen continue regularly. There have been 289 trials into the failed overthrow, and ten continue, Anadolu reported. The government has said the crackdown was needed given Turkey's security challenges to root out Gulen supporters' network deeply embedded in the state apparatus.