86 To Stand Trial on Alleged Plot To Overthrow Turkey's Islamic Government

An Istanbul court on Friday agreed to hear a case against 86 people — including former army officers — accused of planning a series of attacks on the prime minister and other prominent Turks as part of a plot to overthrow Turkey's Islamic-rooted government.

Earlier this month, the chief prosecutor in Istanbul accused the suspects of either forming or belonging to a terrorist organization, or of provoking an armed uprising with the aim of bringing down Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

The prosecutor's 2,500-page indictment, made public Friday, claims the suspects were behind a series of attacks or attempted attacks on prominent Turks in the past few years.

These included the 2006 attacks on Turkey's administrative court and the pro-secular Cumhuriyet newspaper, allegedly carried out by people impersonating Islamists. These attacks infuriated secularists and led to demonstrations against the government. The first attack killed a judge; no one was hurt in the attack on the paper.

The indictment said the suspects also allegedly planned to kill, among others, Erdogan, Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, prominent Kurdish politicians and the country's military chief.

The attacks and the planned killings were aimed at creating chaos that would, in turn, lead to the overthrow of the government, the indictment said.

It also charges the suspects with possessing explosives and arms as well as obtaining classified documents, provoking military disobedience, inciting hatred and abusing powers.

The suspects include ex-military officers, journalists, a politician, a best-selling author and other nationalists or hard-line secularists who were among the government's most ardent critics.

An announcement from the Istanbul court said the trial against the 86 will begin Oct. 20.

The case has heightened tension between the government and its secular critics.

Some see the case as an act of government revenge and an effort to intimidate secularist groups — including the military — which accuse the government of increasing Islam's profile in Turkey. Others say the case will help unravel an illegal organization and invigorate democracy in a country that has seen several military interventions since the 1960s.

The arrests have come at a time when the country's top court will start deliberating in a separate court case on whether to disband the ruling party on the ground that it has become "a focal point anti-secular activity."

The two cases have become the center of a power struggle between Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government, which came to power in 2003, and a long-standing tradition of secularism in mostly Muslim Turkey.

Most of the 86 suspects in the coup case were arrested after police raided the home of a retired noncommissioned officer in Istanbul last year and seized a cache of hand grenades. The suspects are believed to be part of Ergenekon, a secularist and nationalist group, which takes its name from a legendary valley in Central Asia.

Forty-eight of the suspects have been jailed. They include an ultranationalist lawyer, Kemal Kerincsiz; Dogu Perincek, a small leftist and nationalist party leader; and Ergun Poyraz, who wrote a series of best-sellers critical of Erdogan.

Police have made more arrests since then and prosecutors are preparing an additional indictment against a dozen other people, including two senior retired generals.