TURKEY

New images show lax treatment of key fugitive coup figure

NEW IMAGES SHOW LAX TREATMENT OF KEY FUGITIVE COUP FIGURE

Images published yesterday show how Adil Öksüz, the fugitive mastermind of the July 15 coup on behalf of FETÖ, was given a free pass after his initial detention and not handcuffed while detained

One of the most wanted men in Turkey today, Adil Öksüz, was apparently given treatment fit for victims rather than criminals when he was first detained. Security camera footage whose screenshots were published by Anadolu Agency (AA) Wednesday shows how the alleged mastermind of last year's July 15 coup attempt was escorted to a detention center without being handcuffed.

Öksüz, originally a university theology lecturer, is accused of masterminding the coup attempt that killed 249 people in his capacity as a point man for Fetullah Gülen, the leader of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ).

Prosecutors say Öksüz met the group's members in the military, including generals, in an Ankara villa days before the coup attempt and planned their actions. He was captured near Akıncı Air Base in the capital, Ankara, which putschists used as their command center. He was released in a controversial court decision hours later. When it was discovered that Öksüz was an imam, or point man for FETÖ, authorities launched a manhunt and probe into 28 suspects, including judges and security officers, accused of facilitating his release.

The images, which was included in an indictment on incidents at Akıncı Air Base on July 15, 2016, in which 481 suspects are accused on coup charges, also shows other civilian Gülenists who are accused of playing key roles at the base not being handcuffed.

Öksüz was attempting to flee the military base when he was stopped by gendarmerie officers, who had been tipped off by local, that some suspected coup troops were trying to escape after the coup attempt was quelled in the early hours of July 16. Öksüz was then taken to a gendarmerie station and later to a police station before he was questioned by prosecutors and released. Images show a gendarmerie van entering the station at 12:11p.m. on July 16, and Öksüz exiting the vehicle with a black bag without handcuffs. Hakan Çiçek and Nurettin Oruç then get out of the van, again, without handcuffs. Çiçek, the owner of a FETÖ-linked university, and Oruç, a documentary filmmaker, were captured around the same time as Öksüz at Akıncı Air Base. Twenty minutes later, another vehicle carrying Kemal Batmaz and Harun Biniş arrives at the station and two men exit. They walk into the station without handcuffs, but 10 minutes later, gendarmerie troops handcuff them to each other.

The indictment on the release of Öksüz claims the suspect was discovered walking some 600 meters on a road near the spot where Oruç and Çiçek were detained minutes earlier. Öksüz, who was carrying a suitcase, told the gendarmerie troops who stopped him that he was "checking a plot of land he planned to purchase" near the base, but troops detained him anyway.

An investigation after the coup attempt found that Öksüz had been a frequent visitor to the capital since 2015, and during his latest visits, he met top military brass involved in the coup attempt. Investigators also found he frequently traveled to the United States and was accompanied by other FETÖ imams on flights.

Batmaz, a former executive at Kaynak Holding, one of the largest FETÖ-linked conglomerates seized by the court for its terror links, was among FETÖ imams who traveled to the United States on the same dates with Öksüz though he denies links to the fugitive suspect. Oruç, likewise, denied links to Öksüz and explained away traveling to the United States on the same date with Öksüz as "a coincidence."

Turkey has placed Öksüz in the "red category" of the country's most-wanted terror suspects, offering up to TL 4 million ($1.1 million) for tips that lead to his capture. He is believed to have fled abroad as nationwide searches have failed to locate him. Answering rumors that he had been spotted in Germany multiple times, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ, who was Justice Minister at the time of the coup attempt, told reporters that they were "assessing" all tip-offs about his location. "We had tip-offs before that he was in Georgia, and now it is Germany. The Justice Ministry conveyed these tip-offs to prosecutors and relevant authorities. The state takes every tip into consideration and conducts meticulous efforts to find him," Bozdağ said.

A news story in Hürriyet newspaper says a fugitive convict who was apprehended in February 2017 told authorities that he encountered Öksüz in the latter's hometown Sakarya. İbrahim Can Demir said he and a friend met Öksüz and a few other people in January 2017, in the countryside outside the city, and Öksüz asked them to forge an identity and told them he was willing "to pay any price no matter how high it is." Demir said he only realized it was Öksüz when he saw photos of the suspect later in newspapers and on TV. "He was thinner and without a mustache and had shaved his head," he told investigators according to the Hürriyet report. The newspaper also reported that Öksüz withdrew about TL 4,000 ($1,125) from two bank accounts between July 17 and July 20, while he was at large.

Öksüz faces life imprisonment and a number of additional prison terms for the coup attempt as well as for membership in a terrorist group. Witnesses say that Biniş, another civilian FETÖ figure and former employee at a company run by Gülenists, was with Öksüz at the villa during the coup talks with top generals captured following the coup attempt.

Gülen and Öksüz are being tried in absentia in coup cases that saw the detention and arrests of hundreds of military officers with suspected links to FETÖ. Gülen, a former imam who has been living in Pennsylvania since 1999, denies the charges. He and Öksüz face multiple life terms for their suspected roles in the coup attempt that came three years after FETÖ members in the judiciary and law enforcement tried two unsuccessful judicial coup attempts.

Recently, Gülen, for the first time, acknowledged that he personally knows Öksüz. Speaking to France 24, Gülen said Öksüz was once a member of a study circle in his movement. Gülenists call their organization "Hizmet" (Service) and claim to work for charity and education. "Adil Öksüz, at one time, I think when he was studying at school, he became part of our study circle," Gülen told France 24, adding that this was about 30 years ago. He also acknowledged that Öksüz came to his Pennsylvania compound before last year's coup attempt on one of his more recent visits. However, he downplayed the importance of his relations to Öksüz, claiming he was merely one of hundreds of visitors who come to the compound.

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