Istanbul, Turkey - Generals Accused of Plotting 2003 Synagogues Bombing
Istanbul, Turkey - The men are alleged to have plotted with al-Qaeda to carry out the attack in the hope of destabilising the government and paving the way for a military coup.
Prosecutors suspect the former heads of the air force, navy and Turkish 1st army were linked to attacks on the British consulate, HSBC headquarters and synagogues.
Roger Short, the consul general in Istanbul, was killed in the attack on the Charles Barry-designed Italianate Palace in the heart of Istanbul in November 2003. Lisa Hallworth, from Denton, Greater Manchester, and former airline worker Nanette Elizabeth Kurma, from Drongan, Ayrshire, were also killed in the blast.
Although an al-Qaeda linked group claimed responsibility for the attack at the time, there have always been questions over its ability to source bomb making materials and evade security controls in a country with a powerful security force.
Investigators claim the bombings were part of “Operation Sledgehammer” which had been formulated by senior military figures eight months earlier to destabilise Turkey and trigger a military intervention to overthrow the government.
Prosecutors have arrested 35 ex-military figures in recent weeks on suspicion of being part of the plot which is also said to have involved plans to provoke Greece into shooting down a Turkish fighter jet.
Turkey’s military traditionally views itself as the defender of the secular state and harbours deep suspicions over the religious origins of the AK Party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Gen Çetin Dogan, who has been described as the ringleader of the conspiracy as head of the 1st army and then deputy chief of the military staff, faced questions over Istanbul bombings before he was remanded in custody on Sunday. Gen Ibrahim Fırtına, the ex-air force chief and Adml Özden Örnek, a former naval commander, also faced questions over the links to the Istanbul bombing.
Turkey put 69 people on trial after the attacks on charges of carrying out the car bombings. DNA tests proved that the driver of the vehicle used to blow up the consulate was Feridun Ugurlu, a militant who had previously been named as an accomplice in the synagogue attacks.
Those responsible for the attacks said it had been carried out in retaliation for Britain’s role in the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
Canon Ian Sherwood, an Anglican priest whose church was blow up in the attacks, said the report demonstrated the ruthlessness of those allegedly plotting to depose the government.
“We knew that a lot of people had been arrested, gone to court and are in jail over the attacks,” he said. “So this is a surprise. We used to think thank God for the army but this shows that fanaticism in secularism is just as bad as fanaticism in religion.”
The Operation Sledgehammer arrests are proving highly controversial in Turkey with prosecutors accused of carrying out a politically-inspired witch hunt of the government’s opponents.
Mr Erdogan announced he was planning to introduce sweeping changes to the military-imposed constitution from 1982. The reforms would allow the government to make changes to the judiciary, another bastion of opposition to the AK party.
If the government is successful in implicating military leaders of prominent Nato ally in an attack on a British diplomatic post, the ramifications would be far-reaching. It would force the military to give up a privileged legal position that allowed many of its members to act with impunity.
“There is a militarist establishment in Turkey, made up not only of soldiers but also judges and prosecutors and others in the bureaucracy,” said Sedat Laciner, head of Turkish American think tank. “This establishment is no longer able to protect itself.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said Britain was not asking for the investigations into the attacks to be reopened.
“The UK was content with both the conduct and the outcome of the investigation into the 2003 bombing of the British Consulate and HSBC building in Istanbul,” he said. “There are no outstanding issues to be resolved.”
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