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Air base commander arrested by Turkish government in wake of failed coup


Turkish F-16 taxis for takeoff at Incirlik Air Base. (Photo: TAF)

Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan continued his move to secure his increasingly Islamist regime in the wake of the failed coup from this past weekend. Among those arrested in the crackdown is the commander of Incirlik Air Base, where the United States Air Force's 39th Air Base Wing is based.

During the coup, Turkish F-16s reportedly had Erdogan's plane in their sights, and harassed it, but they did not shoot it down. The Federal Aviation Administration has extended the ban on flights to and from Turkey through September 1, a sign that this crisis is expected to continue for weeks at the very least.

According to one media report, Turkish state media claimed that former air force commander Akin Ozturk had confessed to planning the coup, but in an appearance before a prosecutor, Ozturk denied any involvement. Erdogan has banned all "public servants" from leaving Turkey – an attempt to ensure that none of those who plotted the coup escape. The Turkish President is also stating that he will approve the reinstatement of the death penalty, abolished in 2004, should the Turkish legislature approve it. Such approval may well happen given the fact that Erdogan's party has control of the Turkish Parliament. The European Union has stated that any use of capital punishment will end any chances of Turkey entering that body.

Erdogan has also begun a series of purges, with the total number of police, judges, and military personnel being suspended or detained totaling at least 14,000. Many of those were supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan's until they fell out over a 2013 corruption investigation. The BBC reported that Erdogan helped the Gulen supporters get jobs in the police prior to the end of their alliance.

On the diplomatic front, the United States and Turkey are heading towards a falling out. Erdogan has said that Turkey may need to "reconsider" its friendship with the United States. The Turkish president is also continuing to demand the extradition of Gulen, an influential cleric who supports education, religious tolerance, democracy, and is, by all appearances, a genuinely moderate Moslem. In response, Secretary of State John Kerry is saying that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization could expel Turkey. Gulen has raised the possibility that Erdogan staged the coup himself to justify the purges. One European Union commissioner speculated that Erdogan's regime may have had lists of people to arrest prepared beforehand, a claim that was dismissed by Turkish Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

The arrest of the commander of Incirlik Air Base came after the officer's request for asylum from the United States was denied. Tweets from Americans stationed at Incirlik vouched for the officer, who was taken into custody, and who is likely to be imprisoned, if not killed. Reports have surfaced that Turkish police and prosecutors are searching the air base, where the Federation of American Scientists believe that a number of B61 gravity bombs are stored.