Turkish President Was Seconds Away From Being Shot Out Of The Sky During Friday Night Coup Attempt

President Tayyip Erdogan was enjoying a seaside holiday when the first shots were fired in Ankara. As chaos gripped the city, the 62-year old Turkish leader boarded his official jet at Dalaman airport and departed for Istanbul. A rebel faction of the national military was going berserk, and two Turkish F-15 fighter jets had their radar locked on the presidential plane.

A senior government official told Reuters that President Erdogan’s aircraft was “harassed” in mid-air as the on-the-ground melee unfolded. Another official confirmed that the presidential aircraft had been “in trouble in the air.”

“At least two F-16s harassed Erdogan’s plane while it was in the air and en route to Istanbul. They locked their radars on his plane and on two other F-16s protecting him. Why they didn’t fire is a mystery.”

It was not the first time President Erdogan narrowly escaped being seized -or worse- by rebels on Friday night. According to Reuters, helicopters delivered at least 25 armed rebel soldiers to the roof of the Marmaris resort hotel that the president had vacated moments earlier. After landing at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul shortly after midnight, Erdogan told reporters that bombs exploded at other locations he had recently visited, as well.

The aerial plot against the president of Turkey was apparently launched from the Akinci air base which sits approximately 30 miles northwest of Ankara. At least 15 pilots took to the sky under the direction of a rebel commander and proceeded to terrorize citizens of Ankara and Istanbul, strafing the capital and shattering windows with low-flying sonic booms. Reuters reports that Hulusi Akar, the head of Turkey’s armed forces, was seized and held captive at the air base for several hours before being rescued.

Akinci air base is located in the Kazan district where a spokesman for the mayor told reporters that nearby residents noticed an unusual number of aircraft departing from the air base.

When rebel jets began targeting parliament buildings in Ankara and people in Istanbul, the local citizenry organized themselves and took action, marching to the base in an effort to halt the uprising.

“They tried to block traffic to the base by parking their vehicles, burning hay to block the jets’ vision, and in the end they attempted to cut the power to the base.”

Seven of the civilians were killed as they endeavored to protect the Akinci facility, as were dozens more in various locations around the nation that serves as a crossroads between Europe and Asia. In total, nearly 300 people lost their lives in Friday night’s failed coup attempt. Approximately 100 of the dead were coup supporters; the rest were civilians and public police officers.

Forces loyal to the elected Turkish president scrambled from the air base at Eskisehir to bomb Akinci and stop the rebels. Unfortunately, the rebels also commandeered a fuel tanker from Incirlik air base in southern Turkey and were able to stay aloft all night by refueling in mid-air. On Sunday, the commander of Incirlik air base was arrested for complicity in the failed coup. Reuters notes that Incirlik air base is utilized by U.S. armed forces to support bombing raids on ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Reuters reports that senior officials in Ankara are certain that the plot to overthrow the Erdogan government was masterminded by a member of the High Military Council named Akin Ozturk. Until 2015, Ozturk was commander of the Turkish air force. Born in 1952, Ozturk was scheduled to retire later this summer. Today, he is cooling his heels in an Ankara jail cell.

Government sources also named Muharrem Kose as a co-conspirator. Kose was removed from his post as legal adviser to the chief of military staff due to undefined misconduct in March but was not discharged from the Turkish armed forces. Kose is known to be a follower of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, who currently resides in Pennsylvania. As of this afternoon, the whereabouts of Muharrem Kose are unknown, says Reuters.

The Erdogan administration has long considered Fethullah Gulen to be a problem. The Islamic cleric has repeatedly denied accusations that he is trying to establish a “parallel structure” within the Turkish armed forces, media, and courts of law.

Dwelling in self-imposed exile in the United States, the frail, 75-year old Gulen suggested to The Guardian that Friday’s attempted coup may actually have been “staged” by the Turkish government. Speaking through translators from the Golden Generation Worship and Retreat complex in Saylorsburg, where he has lived since 1999, Fethullah Gulen told reporters the following.

“I don’t believe that the world believes the accusations made by President Erdogan. There is a possibility that it could be a staged coup and it could be meant for further accusations [against Gulen and his followers].”

Despite numerous denials, President Erdogan and his staff remain convinced that Fethullah Gulen is directly responsible for the most recent coup attempt in Turkey. The president told CNN the following.

“I call on the United States and President Barack Obama to either arrest Fethullah Gulen or return him to Turkey. If we are strategic partners or model partners, do what is necessary.”

[Photo by Kenan Gurbuz/Anatolia/AP Images]