Turkish government officials are bickering with the US embassy in Ankara over an investigation into two suspects accused of conducting an unlawful search of Turkish intelligence trucks illegally shipping weapons to Syria.
Istanbul’s chief public prosecutor says his office sent a letter to the US embassy, requesting information about Bayram Andac and Muharrem Gozukucuk, two men whom Turkish authorities say are imams of the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), the group blamed for the July 2016 coup attempt. Andac and Gozukucuk had several telephone conversations with the American embassy in Ankara and the US consulate in Istanbul, the prosecutor said.
The US embassy issued a statement Wednesday, saying it never received the letter, however, and was only aware of it because of media reports.
The letter in question was sent on June 30, and received Wednesday afternoon, according to Turkish authorities.
“The letter regarding the telephone conversations of two suspects of the MIT [National Intelligence Organization] trucks case with the embassy staff was received by the U.S. Embassy in Ankara” Wednesday, Istanbul Chief Prosecutor Irfan Fidan told the Anadolu Agency.
Embassy officials then admitted they had received the request, telling the Daily Sabah, a pro-government newspaper, that they would respond to Fidan in the coming days.
Turkish prosecutors indicted Andac and Gozukucuk Tuesday, accusing the two men of personally overseeing a raid on trucks belonging to Turkey’s National Intelligence Directorate (MIT) on January 19, 2014.
The MIT trucks were bound for Syria when they were stopped and searched by the local gendarmerie in the Turkish border province of Adana after provincial prosecutors got a tip-off that the trucks were carrying weapons for rebel and terrorist groups in Syria. Such searches are prohibited by Turkish law, according to the Anadolu news agency.
At least eight members of the Turkish military were arrested and charged with smuggling weapons to Syria. Three other officers were arrested on treason and espionage charges for carrying out the inspection. Nearly 60 people have been arrested for their involvement in the search.
Two journalists from Turkey’s independent Cumhuriyet newspaper were convicted on charges of “revealing state secrets.” In February 2016, however, Turkey’s constitutional court ruled that the journalists’ rights were violated when they were arrested.
Turkish officials are seeking information from the US missions about multiple phone calls from Andac and Gozukucuk that occurred both a day and two months after the incident, the Daily Sabah reported. Fidan has requested that embassy officials disclose the contents of the calls.
The indictment also accused Fethullah Gulen, a cleric in exile in the US, of ordering his followers to expose the MIT weapons smuggling. The arrested officials have been linked to FETO, Gulen’s group, the Daily Sabah reported.
Turkey is seeking Gulen’s extradition to face trial for “multiple crimes.” Ankara has further accused him of plotting to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Thousands of officials throughout Turkey have been charged with taking part in the failed July 2016 coup attempt that killed 250 people and injured nearly 2,200 more. External groups have found no evidence linking Gulen with the coup.
As the US and Turkish officials argue whether the letter requesting details of the phone calls was received, the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has meanwhile published a report accusing Erdogan of orchestrating the failed coup.
SCF is an advocacy organization that focuses on Turkey and is run by self-exiled journalists. The 191-page report reviewed publicly available data, coup indictments, testimonials in court trials, private interviews, reviews of military expert opinions and other evidence collected by researchers.
“This was a continuation of a series of false flags that were uncovered in the last couple of years under the authoritarian rule of [the] Erdogan regime and it was certainly the bloodiest one,” SCF President Abdullah Bozkurt said in a statement. “Erdogan appears to have tapped on widely circulated coup rumors in the Turkish capital and staged [his] own show to steal wind and set up his opposition for a persecution.”