Eyes on six Sledgehammer fugitives



In this 2008 photo, Col. Mustafa Önsel seen with the father of a soldier killed by terrorists.
Sledgehammer suspect Col. Mustafa Önsel surrendered to security forces on Wednesday and was placed behind the bars on coup charges while the focus remains on six other suspects who are still at large.
The fugitives are expected to surrender to security forces, but it is not clear when they will do so. The fugitives are retired Gen. Ergin Saygun, Brig Gen. Hakan Akkoç, Col. Mehmet Alper ?engezer, and noncommissioned officers Murat Ataç, Bahtiyar Ersoy and Nedim Ulusan.
Sledgehammer is a subversive plot allegedly prepared by a clique inside the military that included plans to crash jets and bomb large mosques during busy prayer hours to undermine the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) with the hope of eventually overthrowing it. Currently, there are 195 suspects in the case, all of whom are retired or active duty members of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). The ?stanbul 10th High Criminal Court decided to arrest 163 of the suspects last week. A total of 157 suspects have now been arrested on coup charges. There are news reports that retired Gen. Saygun had a heart attack when he was travelling to surrender to police on Tuesday. He was reportedly immediately rushed to the Gülhane Military Academy of Medicine (GATA).

Saygun was immediately hospitalized at GATA after the court decided to arrest him. All Sledgehammer suspects are accused of a failed attempt to destroy Parliament and overthrow the government. Such a charge calls for a jail sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül spoke to reporters about the Sledgehammer suspects on Wednesday, and said, “Everyone is considered innocent until proven guilty.” He added that “the prime minister also spoke about the presumption of innocence [during his parliamentary address on Tuesday]. This is an opinion I also share about the arrests.” Gönül declined to comment on the future promotions of the Sledgehammer suspects.

Many observers in Turkey have called on the defense minister to suspend the Sledgehammer suspects in accordance with Article 65 of the Law on TSK Staff. They see military officers as unable to fulfill their responsibilities when in prison. The article gives the defense minister the right to suspend naval, air and land forces officers who are on trial. The minister, however, said publicly earlier this week that the suspects would not be suspended.

Suspects placed in separate rooms

There have been news reports that retired members of the military, who have been arrested as part of the Sledgehammer case, have been placed in separate rooms in Silivri Prison in accordance with their ranks. There are 28 high-ranking military officers who have been jailed in Silivri Prison.

Retired Gen. Çetin Do?an, the former head of the 1st Army, is staying in a single room. He is the prime suspect in the case. Former force commanders, including former Air Forces Commander Gen. ?brahim F?rt?na, former Naval Forces Commander Adm. Özden Örnek and former National Security Council (MGK) Secretary-General ?ükrü Sar????k have been placed in the same room. Retired brigadier generals are staying in the same room, while lieutenant generals and colonels are staying in separate rooms.

In the meantime, former Chief of General Staff Gen. Hilmi Özkök told the Milliyet daily that the ongoing legal process will decide whether the Sledgehammer suspects are innocent or guilty. “It would be wrong for me to comment on the legal process. My words would be considered pressure on the judiciary. I worked with most of those friends [Sledgehammer suspects] and I have personal ties with them. They are my fellow soldiers. They are clean people in my eyes. I believe that all of them are clean [innocent]. If they are guilty, the judicial process will show it,” he stated.

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