[JURIST] Turkish police on Monday detained more than 40 people in connection with an alleged military plot to overthrow the Islamic-rooted government. According to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [official profile, in Turkish; JURIST news archive], the arrests occurred during security operations in which 14 senior military officers, including former air force chief Ibrahim Firtina and former navy chief Ozden Ornek, were taken into custody. The investigation comes after the liberal newspaper Taraf [media website, in Turkish] exposed a plot by a group within the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) [official website, in Turkish] in January. The newspaper described the Balyoz Security Operation Plan (Sledgehammer plot) [Taraf report, in Turkish] and the 5,000 page document that detailed plans to bomb Istanbul mosques and provoke Greece into shooting down Turkish planes.
The alleged coup plot highlights the continuing power struggle between Turkey's ruling Justice Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish] and the country's secular nationalist establishment. The Sledgehammer plot is similar to the Ergenekon [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] conspiracy, in which the secular group is suspected of planning to overthrow [JURIST report] the AKP. The Ergenekon group is also alleged to be involved in bombings, political assassination plots, and the death of journalist Hrant Dink [BBC obituary]. The probe into the Ergenekon conspiracy has been criticized as an attempt by the AKP to silence opposition and further its imposition of Islamic principles [DPA report; JURIST report] in violation of Turkey's secular constitution [text]. Trials against the Ergenekon group [JURIST report] opened two years ago with more than 200 suspects in custody. The suspects include journalists, academics, army officers, policemen, and Turkish Workers' Party [party website, in Turkish] leader Dogu Perincek [JURIST report].