SHAFAQNA – Turkish authorities have captured 11 suspected commandos who have been on the run since their failed kidnap operation against the country’s leader during the coup attempt two weeks ago, officials said Monday.
Using drones and helicopters, security forces tracked and seized the men who had been hiding in a forested area around 50 kilometers (30 miles) away from the Marmaris seaside resort where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been on vacation when the coup erupted, the officials said.
The commando attack against Mr. Erdogan’s holiday villa was part of coordinated assaults launched on July 15 across three cities targeting key installations and top officials in Marmaris, Istanbul and the capital, Ankara. Mr. Erdogan had fled the complex before the attack, a key development that helped turn the tide against the coup.
The attempt to take over the government left 271 people dead, including 170 civilians and 34 coup plotters, according to updated statistics released by the government. The others killed include 62 policemen and five soldiers loyal to the government.
President Erdogan accuses the U.S.-based Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen of masterminding the coup.
Mr. Gulen, who has millions of followers in Turkey and abroad, strenuously denies the accusations and says he is opposed to all forms of violence.
In response to the coup, the government has declared a three-month state of emergency and has detained more than 18,000 people, the majority of them from the military, as well as suspended more than 50,000 others from their jobs, mostly on suspicion of being followers of Mr. Gulen.
The arrests in the southwestern Mugla province came ahead of a meeting scheduled later Monday between Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. The two officials are expected to discuss Turkey’s demand that Washington extradite Mr. Gulen, as well as ongoing security and intelligence cooperation in relation with the international coalition against Islamic State.
Turkey is a strategic partner for the U.S., and it boasts the second-largest military among North Atlantic Treaty Organization members. Its Incerlik air base hosts approximately 2,000 U.S. personnel deployed in the fight against Islamic State.
Gen. Dunford’s visit comes amid concern in Washington about Turkey’s military integrity. Since the coup, the government has transferred authority of the armed forces to civilian control, closed military academies and announced plans for sweeping reforms of command structures.
Approximately one-third of Turkey’s generals and admirals have been detained since July 15.
U.S. military officials said that some of their top counterparts in Turkey have been among those who have lost their jobs.
Turkish authorities have known that commandos responsible for the Marmaris coup attack had evaded arrest in the immediate aftermath of the event. Last week, the search for the fugitives reached a breakthrough when three men were tracked and arrested in a drainage culvert in Mugla, according to the Anadolu state-run news agency.
Special forces, working on tips from local villagers, located the additional fugitives near a forested area over the weekend, officials said. The villagers, who were out on a boar hunt, saw the strangers and reported them to the authorities, according to a Turkish official.
During the arrest Sunday night and early Monday, forces exchanged gunfire, but there were no known casualties, according to Anadolu.
Turkish television showed pictures of the captured men, most of whom were bearded and wearing T-shirts, being taken in handcuffs to a local police station.
One of the captured men was identified as a major, but neither the identities nor the ranks of those detained could be independently confirmed.
A Turkish official says there appears to be one more member of the Mugla coup cell who remains at large. Around 20 other men have already been charged with taking part in the failed mission against the president, which Turkish officials have characterized as an assassination attempt.