Retired colonel Mustafa Levent Göktaş, a former member of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) elite Special Forces Command and a suspect in the 2002 murder of a Turkish academic who was at large, was detained by Bulgarian authorities, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Friday.
Responding to questions from journalists during a visit to Pakistan, Soylu said news had been received that Göktaş had been detained in the Bulgarian city of Svilengrad about four days ago and that Ankara had contacted Bulgarian authorities.
“He was released after he was caught there. The Turkish public had no knowledge of this. [He was released] in exchange for a payment under [Bulgarian] law. We insisted [on his detention], and as a result he was taken into custody last night,” Soylu said.
“But before that, when we learned he was there, we immediately issued a Red Notice via INTERPOL. Within 24 hours, we sent the Red Notice to authorities in Bulgaria and neighboring countries.”
Saying that Göktaş would either be deported by Bulgaria or put on trial. “Whatever they prefer, we are ready for both,” he said.
Göktaş’s lawyer in Turkey, Hüseyin Ersöz, told the Medyascope news website that he did not know if Turkey was demanding his client’s extradition but that he had a lawyer in Bulgaria through whom the proceedings would be handled.
Necip Hablemitoğlu, an academic in the history department at Ankara University, was murdered outside his home in Ankara on January 18, 2002.
The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued arrest warrants in June for nine people in connection with the academic’s murder. Seven of them, including retired military officers, were arrested by Ankara police while a manhunt was underway to capture Göktaş and another retired colonel, Tan Dervişoğlu.
Both Göktaş and Dervişoğlu were reported to have fled abroad.
Göktaş faces charges of premeditated murder and membership in a criminal organization.
Hablemitoğlu was known for his research and books on the Gülen movement, a faith-based group accused by Ankara of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016.
The movement, inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, denies any involvement in the coup. Despite the group’s denials, 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 assassination. However, after the 2016 coup attempt, these theories were transformed into an indictment accusing FETÖ, a derogatory acronym coined by the Turkish government to refer to the Gülen group as a terrorist organization, of murder.
Göktaş had sent a seven-page, handwritten letter to several journalists, including İsmail Saymaz of the Halk TV news website, three days before his arrest, according to Turkish media.
Saymaz shared the letter in a broadcast on TV only hours after the news of Göktaş’s arrest.
Levent Göktaş yakalanmadan üç gün önce gazetecilere mektup göndermiş. Gönderdiği gazeteciler yayınlamamışlar. Halk TV ancak yakalandıktan sonra yayınladı. 7 sayfalık mektup burada: pic.twitter.com/GGUoSLOW00
— Cevheri Güven (@cevheriguven) September 2, 2022
“I and the officers and noncommissioned officers of the special forces have nothing to do with this incident. It is a lie, a fabrication and a conspiracy. It is impossible to prove because such an incident never happened. It is not possible that we were involved in such a crime,” Göktaş said in the letter.
The letter recounts Göktaş’s past performance as a soldier and refers to his earlier arrest in the Ergenekon case to explain his escape from prosecution.
In 2009, Göktaş was arrested in the Ergenekon trials, in which a number of individuals, mainly military officers, were charged with 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.
“I did not comply with the arrest warrant because I was unjustly and illegally imprisoned for five and a half years, and I knew I would go through the same thing again,” Göktaş said.
Nuri Gökhan Bozkır, a former military officer who is also accused of involvement in Hablemitoğlu’s murder, was rendered from Ukraine by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) in late January and arrested by a court on Feb. 8.
In his deposition, Bozkır acknowledged his role in Hablemitoğlu’s murder. He said he was informed by a high-ranking military officer in mid-November 2002 that Hablemitoğlu was the target of an undercover mission and was ordered to scout 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 capture Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.