Defendants escorted by gendarmerie arrive at the court for their trial in Sincan district, Ankara, capital of Turkey, on Aug. 1, 2017. A key trial over Turkey's coup attempt last year started under heavy security measures in Ankara on Tuesday, with 486 suspects accused of masterminding the coup facing justice. (Xinhua/Mustafa Kaya)
by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, Aug. 1 (Xinhua) -- A key trial over Turkey's coup attempt last year started under heavy security measures in Ankara on Tuesday, with 486 suspects accused of masterminding the coup facing justice.
The largest coup trial, which concerns prominent figures of the coup that shocked Turkey on July 15, 2016, started at an exclusively-built courtroom in the suburban Sincan neighborhood.
Most of the suspects are former military personnel at the Akinci Air Base, which was used as the command center by plotters during the foiled coup.
They are charged with crimes ranging from "violating the Constitution, attempting to assassinate the President, attempting to abolish the government of Turkey, managing an armed terrorist organization, seizing military bases, manslaughter, attempting manslaughter and deprivation of liberty."
The key suspect is Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric, who is accused by Ankara of being behind the coup attempt. Former air commander Akin Ozturk, a four star general, is among the suspects being tried.
When the suspects guarded by gendarmes arrived at the courthouse, relatives of victims of the coup threw ropes toward them, shouting "death to traitors," as footage from news channels showed.
Established in 1960 in a distant suburb of Ankara, the Akinci Air Base was closed down after the coup and changed its name to Murted Base Command.
After the coup attempt, Turkey declared a state of emergency that is still in effect and launched a massive crackdown against suspected Gulen followers, which soon spread to all opposition circles against the Turkish government.
More than 50,000 people have been arrested over suspected links to Gulen, with hundreds of soldiers sacked or incarcerated.
Events at the Akinci base were at the center of the coup attempt, because Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar and several army commanders were taken to the base and held captive by pro-coup soldiers during the July 15 coup night.
The base's runways were bombed on the night of the putsch to prevent F-16s used by the coup plotters from taking off. According to the indictment, almost all F-16 pilots at the former Akinci base were members of the Gulen movement, which Turkey claims as a terrorist organization.
Turkey is seeking Gulen's extradition from the U.S. but the two NATO allies are at loggerheads on his case.
"It is very important for our country to entirely shed light on the events of the 15th treason (coup attempt), this is why we are asking Washington to deliver us this individual," a source close to the government explained to Xinhua, regretting that until now very little help has been provided from the United States.
In addition to holding generals captive, the suspects are held responsible for bombing key structures like the parliament building, the Special Forces Headquarters at Golbasi district, the TURKSAT satellite center and the Police Headquarters, as well as commanding the air actions of the coup attempt, including the movement of F-16 jets.
A total of 461 suspects are being tried in jail, 18 are being tried without arrest, and seven key figures are still on the run, including Adil Oksuz, known as "Air Force imam," who was last seen on the morning of July 16 near the air base by gendarmerie forces. Oksuz is allegedly the main liaison to Gulen.
Other civilians such as Kenal Batmaz, Harun Binis and Hakan Cicek are also accused of being the pillars of the coup operation at the air base as they were thought to have issued instructions to generals that night.
Adil Oksuz, a former theology lecturer, reportedly convinced the security forces who rounded him up to belileve that he was looking for an estate ground to purchase in the vicinity of the air base.
Images published by pro-government media outlets showed that the fugitive had been given free pass after his initial detention and not been handcuffed while detained.
Turkey has listed Oksuz in the "red category" of the country's most wanted terror suspects, offering up to 1.2 million U.S. dollars for clues that would lead to his capture. He is believed to have fled abroad, possibly to Germany, according to government sources.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior political figures are among the plaintiffs. The president escaped an assassination during the putsch and his palace in Ankara was also bombed by Air Force jets.
According to the indictment, 68 people were killed by fighter jets that took off from Akinci Air Base.
Fethullah Gulen, who moved to the U.S. in 1999, is accused of leading a campaign since the 1980s to overthrow the state through the infiltration of key institutions, especially the military, police and judiciary. He denies all the charges.
"The core engine of the coup attempts is the Gulen movement, but there were also officers with anti-government sentiments, those with career-advancement goals and those who were blackmailed into joining and lastly some who unquestioningly obeyed commands," said security analyst Metin Gurcan.
The Ankara coup trial is expected to last at least a month.