Military attaches, diplomats flee in Turkey’s post-coup inquiry

US-based Turkish navy officer ‘missing’ after coup

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Two Turkish military attaches in Greece fled to Italy, others were caught overseas and some diplomats were on the run after being recalled as part of an inquiry into last month's failed military coup, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Thursday.

A deadline for Turkish diplomats recalled to Ankara as part of investigations into a failed military coup expired on Thursday and a “legal process” has started against those who had not come back, Mevlut Cavusoglu, the foreign minister, told NTV television.

A number of Turkish military attaches abroad supported the coup and some had even notified their embassies on the night of the failed coup that they were “in charge now,” Cavusoglu said.

Cavusoglu said two Turkish civil servants in Bangladesh had fled to New York, while two land and navy attaches in Greece had fled to Italy.

Greek authorities had established that they had left Greece for Italy aboard a ferry on the night of Aug. 6, together with their families. He said one of the colonels had a brother in the Netherlands and that Italy, the Netherlands and other European countries had been notified.

“We are in contact so that the two traitors may be brought back to Turkey,” Cavusoglu said.

Cavusoglu said a military attache based in Kuwait had also tried to escape through Saudi Arabia, but had been sent back, as well as two generals based in Afghanistan who had been caught in Dubai by UAE authorities and returned to Turkey.

“There are those who have escaped. There have been escapees among our diplomats as well,” Cavusoglu told NTV in an interview. “As of yesterday, time has run out for those initially called back. We will carry out the legal operations for those who have not returned.”

Interior Minister Efkan Ala was quoted on Thursday as saying almost 76,100 civil servants have now been suspended.

The Greek foreign ministry said the two attaches fled before Ankara asked them to return to Turkey, and before officials cancelled their diplomatic passports.

Meanwhile, US officials told Reuters this week that a Turkish military officer is seeking asylum in the United States after being recalled by the government.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency later said that the Navy Rear Adm. Mustafa Ugurlu, who was working at a NATO base in the United States, had gone missing.

The agency said Ugurlu had been working at NATO’s Allied Command Transformation headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia.

Anadolu, citing an official at the Turkish embassy in Washington, said Ugurlu had left his ID and badges at his base on July 22 and has not made contact since.

Asked about reports that Ugurlu was seeking asylum in the United States, Cavusoglu said Turkey had asked for information from Washington but had not yet received a response.

He repeated, however, Turkey’s demand that the United States extradite US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for the attempted coup.

“Our main expectation from the United States is Gulen’s return,” Cavusoglu said. “We are seeing signs of US cooperation.”

The US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said the department does not comment on or handle asylum cases. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services said it could not discuss individual cases due to privacy concerns.

Turkey has also asked Athens to return eight suspected coup-plotters who fled Turkey in a helicopter, just after the coup was quashed. They insist they were not involved in the attempted coup, had been tasked with transporting wounded soldiers and civilians and had fled for their lives after coming under fire from Turkish police. The eight are seeking political asylum.

One official said the foreign ministry sent instructions to Turkish diplomatic missions around the world where those suspected of links to the plotters were thought to be working, ordering them back to Ankara as part of the investigations.

Cavusoglu has previously said around 300 members of the foreign ministry have been suspended since the coup plot, including two ambassadors. He said on Thursday two officials in Bangladesh fled to New York, and another official had fled to Japan through Moscow.

“We will return these traitors to Turkey,” Cavusoglu said.

The abortive July 15 coup and the subsequent purge of the military has raised concern about the stability of Turkey, a key member of the US-led coalition fighting ISIS and battling an insurgency at home by Kurdish militants.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen of staging the attempted putsch, harnessing his extensive network of schools, charities and businesses built up in Turkey and abroad over decades to create a “parallel structure.”

Gulen denies any involvement and has condemned the coup bid. But he says Erdogan is using the purges to shore up his own power in Turkey.

Turkey has been angered by the Western response to the attempted coup, viewing Europe as more concerned about the rights of the plotters than the events themselves and the United States as reluctant to extradite Gulen.

That has chilled relations with Washington and the European Union, bringing repeated Turkish warnings about an EU deal to stem the flow of migrants. Erdogan has also repaired ties with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, a detente Western officials worry may be used to pressure the West.

“Sooner or later the United States of America will make a choice. Either Turkey or FETO,” Erdogan told a rally late on Wednesday, using an abbreviation standing for the “Gulenist Terror Group” which is how Ankara refers to Gulen’s movement.

However, Cavusoglu said that problems caused by the July 15 coup attempt at the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, used by the US-led coalition against ISIS, had been resolved.

Turkey would from now on actively join coalition operations with warplanes, he said.

A total of 160 members of the military wanted in connection with the failed coup are still at large, including nine generals, officials have said.

The purge inside Turkey also presses on. Turkey has cancelled the work permits of 27,424 people working in the education sector as part of its investigations, Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz said on Thursday.

Ankara prosecutors on Thursday also ordered the detention of 648 judges and prosecutors suspended a day earlier, Hurriyet newspaper and broadcasters said. They are among 3,500 judges and prosecutors -- a quarter of the national total -- suspended in the coup probe, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.

(With AP, Reuters)

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