Two of the nine suspects accused of involvement in the 2002 murder of academic Necip Hablemitoğlu, retired colonel Mustafa Levent Göktaş, a former member of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) elite Special Forces Command, and retired colonel Tan Dervişoğlu, are said to be abroad, local media reported on Wednesday.
Hablemitoğlu was killed on Jan. 18, 2002, in front of his house in Ankara.
The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Wednesday issued arrest warrants for nine people. Seven of them, retired major Fikret Emek, retired captain Ahmet Tarkan Mumcuoğlu, retired non-commissioned officer Kamil Metin, Bülent Kutsal, Altan Bora, Memiş Aytekin and Osman Tuncer, were arrested by officers from the Ankara Police Department, while a manhunt was underway to capture Göktaş and Dervişoğlu, Turkish media reports said.
Lawyer Vural Ergül on Wednesday said on social media that it had been confirmed that Göktaş and Dervişoğlu were currently abroad.
Nuri Gökhan Bozkır, a former military officer also accused of involvement in the murder of Hablemitoğlu, was rendered from Ukraine by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) in late January and arrested by a court on Feb. 8.
Bozkır admitted his role in the Hablemitoğlu murder in his deposition, saying he was informed in mid-November 2002 by a high-ranking military figure of the time that Hablemitoğlu was their target in an undercover mission and ordered to conduct reconnaissance around the academic’s house on Portakal Çiçeği Street.
As part of the investigation, Göktaş’s aide-de-camp Mehmet Narin was also previously detained.
Göktaş took part in the 1999 operation to catch Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU. More than 40,000 people, including 5,500 security force members, have been killed in four decades of fighting between the Turkish state and the PKK.
In 2009 Göktaş was arrested in the Ergenekon trials, in which a number of people, mainly military officers, were prosecuted for allegedly plotting a coup against the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. Although he was sentenced to 20 years, nine months in prison in 2013, he was released in 2014 after spending only five years behind bars.
According to a report by the T24 news website on Wednesday, Emek was also arrested as part of the Ergenekon trials in 2007 and was notable for possessing the most munitions -– including 11 kilos of C-4 -– of any person detained in the investigation. After being sentenced to 41 years, four months in prison in 2013, he was released the next year.
Hablemitoğlu was an academic at Atatürk University who was known for his research and books on the Gülen movement, a faith-based group accused by Ankara of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt.
Inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, the movement denies any involvement in the coup. Despite the group’s denial, Ankara launched a massive crackdown on the movement, arresting tens of thousands.
The Gülen movement has time and again been framed in conspiracy theories about Hablemitoğlu’s murder; yet after the 2016 coup attempt, these theories turned into an indictment that accuses FETÖ, a derogatory acronym coined by the Turkish government to refer to the Gülen group as a terrorist organization, of the murder.