x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Turkish 'death list' uncovered

Ever since Ali Balkiz came under Turkish police protection at the start of the year, he knew he was a target.

Forensic officers search for weapons in a wooded area in central Ankara in January.
Forensic officers search for weapons in a wooded area in central Ankara in January.

ISTANBUL // Ever since Ali Balkiz came under Turkish police protection at the start of the year, he knew he was a target. But until recently he did not know how much the people who allegedly wanted to kill him knew about him and his private life. "When I saw the documents, I was shocked," Mr Balkiz, the chairman of the Alevi Bektasi Federation, a leading organisation of Turkey's Alevi minority, told a panel in the southern city of Alanya this week.

His name was on a "death list" drawn up by suspected members of Ergenekon, a shadowy group that is accused by prosecutors of planning assassinations and terror attacks with the aim of provoking a military coup against the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister. The investigation against Ergenekon started in 2007, and the trial of a first group of several dozen suspects has been going on since the autumn of last year. Yesterday, prosecutors handed in a fresh indictment against a second group of Ergenekon suspects that includes two former generals and 54 other people.

The indictment, which was sent to the court dealing with the Ergenekon case, is nearly 2,000 pages long, media reports said. Critics of the government, who accuse Mr Erdogan of having an Islamist agenda, say the whole affair is a politically motivated attempt to silence secular opponents of the prime minister in politics and the media and to weaken the strictly secular military. But details about alleged assassination attempts against people like Mr Balkiz, who is no ally of Mr Erdogan, have startled the public.

Prosecutors believe that leaders of Turkey's 10 million to 15 million Alevis, followers of a liberal form of Islam, were targeted by Ergenekon because the group wanted to provoke clashes between the minority and the Sunni majority. Mr Balkiz said he had seen documents relating to the suspected plot to kill him during a visit to the office of the leading prosecutor in the Ergenekon case, Zekeriya Oz, two weeks ago.

"In the documents, I saw a plan that included photographs of my house, a sketch of my house, ways to get there and away, the nine people who had the task [for the assassination], who was going to come up with the explosives," and other details, Mr Balkiz told reporters in Alanya, according to the Anadolu news agency and newspaper reports. Mr Balkiz's name was among several on a list of potential assassination victims that police found this year. When one of the suspected key members of Ergenekon, Ibrahim Sahin, the former deputy head of Turkey's special police forces, was arrested in January, officers also found a list with police and military personnel apparently chosen to be members of death squads. Mr Balkiz was given police protection in the same month.

Turkish police have also confirmed they had information about assassination plots against three other people, newspapers reported yesterday. Answering a question from the judge in the Ergenekon trial, the Istanbul police directorate confirmed that its organised crime unit came across potential threats against Fehmi Koru, a leading pro-government journalist, and against Kurdish politicians Osman Baydemir and Sebahat Tuncel in 2007, the reports said.

While the court works through the cases of the more than 80 Ergenekon suspects, Mr Oz and his fellow prosecutors are putting the finishing touches to a charge sheet covering accusations against former generals Sener Eruygur and Hursit Tolon. Both were arrested last year and later released from custody, although they are still regarded as suspects. According to media reports, prosecutors have concluded that mass demonstrations against Mr Erdogan's government in the first half of 2007 were part of the Ergenekon plot to bring down the government. The demonstrations were triggered by the presidential candidacy of Abdullah Gul, the foreign minister at the time.

Opponents of Mr Erdogan argued that the election of Mr Gul would be a sign for an Islamisation of Turkey, partly because Mr Gul's wife, Hayrunissa, wears the Islamic headscarf. After the military issued a thinly veiled coup threat, Mr Erdogan called early elections in 2007, which his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, won with a landslide. Mr Gul was elected president afterwards. tseibert@thenational.ae