The chatter among Turkish officials about Saudi Arabia’s alleged involvement in a 2016 coup attempt apparently led to serious action on the part of Turkish prosecutors, who secretly investigated Saudi officers deployed at a Turkish air base.
According to secret military documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, Turkish authorities looked into the movements of Saudi nationals who were assigned to Turkey’s İncirlik Air Base near Syria as part of the US-led global coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In February 2016 Riyadh sent warplanes to the Turkish base to support the aerial campaign against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq.
The documents indicate that Saudi citizens Lieutenant Colonel Ahmed S. Al-Amri, Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed A. Al-Shamrani, Colonel Falah F. Al-Subaiy, Captain Talal A. Al-Faifi, Captain Annas A. Al-Quad’, First Sergeant Murdhi S. Alanaz and a civilian named Saud A. Mhzri were caught in the wide net cast by Turkish prosecutors.
The investigation confirms how Turkey and Saudi Arabia have become distanced from each other in recent years, with the pro-Iran and pro-Muslim Brotherhood regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan adopting anti-Saudi policies in the Middle East and North Africa region.
One document indicates that prosecutors obtained entry and exit records for İncirlik Air Base for July 14 and 15, 2016 and looked into names that appeared in the logs, which listed, among others, five Saudi nationals.
Although there has been no evidence uncovered to support the complicity of Saudi Arabia or other Gulf states that are critical of President Erdoğan’s policies, the Turkish government-controlled media has continued feeding an anti-Gulf frenzy and publishing conspiracies that involved wealthy Gulf nations.
In December 2019 Erdoğan publicly slammed the Egypt-Saudi Arabia-UAE-led bloc for what he claimed was the undermining of Muslims’ rise, unity and success; called them fools for snubbing a Malaysia summit held at the time; and accused them of stoking internal conflict in Muslim countries and of financing the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. In October 2019 Erdoğan lashed out again at Saudi Arabia, this time accusing Riyadh of killing tens of thousands in Yemen and destroying the country. He called for Saudi Arabia to be held to account.
The bizarre and twisted articles and television series aired on government TV helped nurture anti-Saudi and anti-United Arab Emirates sentiment in Turkey while fueling hatred against Arabs in general. The campaign helped Erdoğan shore up his core Islamist base domestically and ensured the allegiance of his nationalist (milliyetçi) and neo-nationalist (ulusalcı) allies, who harbor strong anti-Arab views.
On the A-Haber TV network, which is owned by the family of President Erdoğan, morning news show presenter Erkan Tan claimed in March 2020 that “Zionist Jews and Evangelical Christians have seized governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and they want these countries to wage war on Turkey.”
Dozens of names in the 48-page entry and exit log for the Turkish Air Force’s 10th Tanker Base Command at İncirlik were compiled by Selim Kayaalp, a lieutenant with the operations and training bureau.
Another document, stamped secret and signed by Chief Sgt. Erkan Boyaci, indicated that the records were handed over to a team authorized by the prosecutor’s office in Adana. The document, entered as evidence into the case file on October 14, 2016, reveals that not only the logs but also CCTV footage in and around İncirlik Air Base were turned over to the prosecutor.
It is not clear what happened to these logs and records in the end as the paper trail does not show how that evidence was assessed and factored into the investigation by Turkish authorities in Adana province, where İncirlik Air Base is located.
President Erdoğan has ratched up anti-Saudi rhetoric in recent years, accusing Riyadh of using petro-dollars to push policies in the Middle East and the world. In November 2018 he brought Qatari-based Egyptian cleric Youssef al-Qaradawi, a Muslim Brotherhood Ideologue, to Istanbul to have him speak on behalf of his government while bashing Saudi Arabia.
On October 1, 2020 Erdoğan went even further in a speech in parliament, saying that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other anti-Turkey Gulf states would likely be wiped off the face of the earth.
Turkish government officials have also alleged that the US was involved in the abortive putsch. Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu accused the US of orchestrating the coup on July 16 while events were still unfolding and nobody knew who was behind the limited military mobilization. He repeated the same allegation on a number of occasions, saying that vocal Erdoğan critic Fethullah Gülen lacked the capability of mounting such an attempt.
The government accuses Gülen, a 79-year-old cleric who has been living in the US since 1999, of being behind the failed coup although no evidence has been presented to prove the claim. Gülen himself denied playing any role and asked for an international inquiry to ascertain the real perpetrators, a proposal that Erdoğan declined.
In January 2018 Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on government TV network TRT that he had delivered to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson the Turkish people’s demands regarding İncirlik during a meeting in Vancouver. In February 2018 Çavuşoğlu repeated the same threats and said the Turkish people demanded the termination of US access to both the İncirlik base and the Kürecik radar station.
In July 2018 Erdoğan for the first time raised the issue of closing İncirlik Air Base to the Americans, followed by similar comments from his neo-nationalist ally Doğu Perinçek.
With the unprecedented purge of more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors and their replacement by partisan, Islamist and neo-nationalist candidates in 2016, Turkish prosecutors and judges are seen as political whips in the hands of the government, which often abuses the criminal justice system to intimidate critics at home and convey political messages to foreign governments.
Many believe the limited military mobilization in 2016 was a false flag operation orchestrated by Erdoğan himself to consolidate more power in his hands, push the Turkish military into operations in Syria and Libya and prosecute his opponents on fabricated criminal charges.
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