ANKARA, Turkey – Days after a failed coup attempt in Turkey, the country’s jets carried out cross-border strikes against Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq, killing some 20 alleged militants, state media reported Wednesday.
F-16 jets pounded targets belonging to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in Iraq’s Hakurk region, Anadolu Agency reported. The Turkish military has been regularly hitting suspected PKK hideouts and position in Iraq since last year, but Wednesday’s strikes were the first since the July 15 botched takeover attempt by a faction within the armed forces, in which several F-16 pilots were involved. It came as the military was reeling from the failed putsch and appeared to be an attempt to show that the forces are on top of security matters.
Authorities have rounded up close to 9,000 people – including 115 generals, 350 officers and some 4,800 other military personnel – for alleged involvement in the coup attempt.
Tens of thousands of civil service employees, including teachers, accused of ties to the plot or suspected of links to a U.S.-based cleric whom authorities accuse of being the behind the plot, have also been fired. The purges were intended to blunt the influence of the cleric, Fethullah Gulen, a rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The coup has led to public anger and calls for the government to reinstate capital punishment, while the state-run religious affairs body declared no religious rites would be performed for the coup plotters killed in the uprising. Capital punishment was abolished in 2004 as part of Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, and several European officials have said its reinstatement would be the end of Turkey’s attempts to join.
Officials on Wednesday raised the death toll from the violence surrounding the coup attempt to 240 government supporters. At least 24 coup plotters were also killed.
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Turkey’s National Security Council – the highest advisory body on security issues – was holding an extraordinary meeting followed by a previously unscheduled cabinet meeting on Wednesday, after which Erdogan said an “important decision” would be announced.
Turkey is demanding that Washington extradite Gulen, who has been in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s and who the government has long accused of being behind a “parallel terrorist organization.”
Erdogan raised the issue in a phone call with U.S. President Barack Obama, and his spokesman said the government was preparing a formal extradition request for Gulen. But he also suggested that the U.S. government shouldn’t require the facts before extraditing him.
Later, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that Turkey had submitted materials related to Gulen and the administration was reviewing whether they amounted to a formal extradition request. Earnest added that a decision on whether to extradite would be made under a longstanding treaty between the two countries, and wouldn’t be made by Obama.
Gulen has strongly denied the government’s charges, suggesting the attempted coup could have been staged as a pretext for the Erdogan government to seize even more power.
The purges against suspected Gulen supporters follow earlier aggressive moves by Erdogan’s administration against Gulen loyalists in the government, police and judiciary following corruption probes targeting Erdogan associates and family members in late 2013 – prosecutions the government says were orchestrated by Gulen.
El Deeb reported from Istanbul.