Middle East

Arrest warrant issued for Erdogan's top military aide in crackdown, Turkish media report

John Huddy reports on the fallout after military's attempt to overthrow the government

 

The Turkish government on Sunday ratcheted up its crackdown on alleged plotters of the botched coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, issuing an arrest warrant for his top military aide while rounding up as many as 6,000 opponents of the regime, according to government officials.

Turkey's armed forces said they were at the command of the state and Turkish people, national broadcaster NTV reported. It wasn't immediately clear what role, if any, Erdogan's military aide Col. Ali Yazici played in the failed coup that started late Friday. 

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said in a television interview that "the cleansing (operation) is continuing. Some 6,000 detentions have taken place. The number could surpass 6,000."

Detention orders were filed for 53 more judges and prosecutors while 52 military officers were rounded up for their alleged roles in the plot, Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Separately, Turkish authorities arrested Gen. Bekir Ercan Van, the commander of Incirlik air base, used by U.S.-led coalition jets fighting the Islamic State, a U.S. official told Fox News. The Turkish private DHA news agency showed footage of Van handcuffed and pushed into a van outside a courthouse.

Bozdag also said he was confident that the United States would return Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen to Turkey. The Turkish president has blamed Gulen and his followers for the failed military coup on Friday night, but Gulen has denied any involvement in or knowledge about the attempted coup. The U.S. says it will look at any evidence Turkey has to offer against Gulen, and judge accordingly.

Bozdag says "the United States would weaken itself by protecting him, it would harm its reputation. I don't think that at this hour, the United States would protect someone who carried out this act against Turkey."

Erdogan spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the failed coup, Turkish officials told reporters.

Putin said Moscow stood by "Turkey's elected government" and expressed his good wishes to Turkey's people, a Turkish government statement added.

It said the two leaders -- who recently patched up relations following Turkey's downing of a Russian warplane -- also agreed to meet face-to-face next month.

The reports Sunday followed an intense crackdown against the judiciary and the military in the wake of the botched coup Friday night.

The government has also dismissed nearly 3,000 judges and prosecutors from their posts, while investigators were preparing court cases to send the conspirators to trial on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.

The botched coup, which saw warplanes fly over key government installations and tanks roll up in major cities briefly, ended hours later when loyal government forces including military and police-- regained control of the military and civilians took to the streets in support of Erdogan.

At least 265 people were killed and more than 1,400 were wounded. Government officials say at least 104 conspirators were killed.

Still, the coup appears to have boosted Erdogan's popularity. Clapping, singing and dancing, thousands of government backers celebrated the defeat of the coup in public squares in Ankara and Istanbul into the wee hours Sunday, bolstering support for the man who's led Turkey for over 13 years.

Erdogan's survival has turned him into a "sort of a mythical figure" and could further erode democracy in Turkey, said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish research program at The Washington Institute.

"It will allow him to crack down on liberty and freedom of association, assembly, expression and media in ways that we haven't seen before," he said.

Gozde Kurt, a 16-year-old student at a rally in Istanbul, said Sunday that "just a small group from Turkish armed forces stood up against our government ... but we, the Turkish nation, stand together and repulse it back."

The Yeni Safak newspaper used the headline "Traitors of the country," while the Hurriyet newspaper declared "Democracy's victory."

Fox News' Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.