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Writer Pamuk targeted, Turkey says

The Nobelist was among those to be killed by right-wing plotters against state, an indictment asserts.

July 26, 2008|Laura King | Times Staff Writer

ISTANBUL, TURKEY — Right-wing plotters targeted prominent figures for assassination, including Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel Prize-winning author, and planned to attack NATO installations in Turkey, the government charged Friday in a wide-ranging indictment against what it described as a nationwide network of conspirators.

The 2,500-page document laying out details of the alleged ultranationalist plot was released by prosecutors Friday, as an Istanbul court agreed to take up the case and scheduled hearings to begin Oct. 20.

At least 86 people face trial on charges that include conspiracy and terrorism, and authorities have said more people are likely to be charged.

The group, which dubbed itself "Ergenekon," a mythical site associated with the birth of the Turkic people, plotted to launch "bloody attacks aimed at creating chaos, anarchy, terrorism and instability," with the ultimate aim of bringing down the government, the indictment says.

The suspects are accused of carrying out attacks during the last several years, including one in 2006 on Turkey's highest administrative court, killing a judge, and another against a Turkish newspaper. The group's alleged hit list included Pamuk, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2006 and often has been subjected to right-wing threats, along with the military chief of staff, Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, and several Kurdish politicians.

The case comes at a time of extremely high political tensions in Turkey. Hearings are to be held next week by the country's top Constitutional Court in a separate case that seeks to ban the Islamic-leaning ruling party for anti-secular activities -- accusations that could result in the toppling of the current elected government.

The dual cases, with their competing narratives of threats to the state posed by nationalists and devout Muslims, have caused many commentators to question the strength of Turkey's democracy. The country's once-robust economy has stumbled this year, and an already weakened bid to join the European Union appears even less likely to move forward.

Overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey has a moderate political tradition that includes friendly relations with Israel and membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; the nation is seen by many Western governments as an important bridge to the Islamic world.

In the indictment, Istanbul's chief prosecutor charges dozens of people, including former army officers, with plotting to spark an armed uprising against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose Justice and Development Party decisively won last summer's parliamentary elections. The party has historic roots in political Islam but ran on what it called a conservative-democratic platform focusing on economic reforms.

The government infuriated critics this year when it sought to lift a ban on the wearing of Muslim head scarves at public universities, defying a precedent of staunch separation of religion and state that dates to founding father Kemal Ataturk. The same court that is to hear next week's case against the government blocked the lifting of the head scarf ban, saying it was not in keeping with the secular principles enshrined in Turkey's constitution.

The coup plot came to light in June, prosecutors said, when police found a weapons cache at the home of a retired military officer. The discovery helped investigators crack what they called a loosely organized network whose members included ex-army officers and right-leaning authors and academics.

The indictment said one of the plotters sent a text message to another about a conference that Pamuk, who spends much of his time abroad, planned to attend in Istanbul last year. "If God permits . . . we will take him down afterward," the message said.

The indictment also said conspirators intended to target a major NATO facility in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir. As part of an effort to penetrate the base, they allegedly obtained scans of the identity cards of NATO personnel, including photos and signatures.

Detailed plans for an attack were drawn up, which called for the detonation of explosives and the simultaneous disabling of firefighting systems, the indictment said.

More than half of the suspects charged in Friday's indictment have already been jailed.

Additional arrests have been made, including two senior retired generals jailed this month, and prosecutors said they were preparing separate indictments against the latest detainees.


Special correspondent Yesim Comert contributed to this report.

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