ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish police detained about 50 military commanders Monday for allegedly planning to blow up mosques in order to trigger a military takeover and overthrow the Islamic-rooted government.
The nationwide sweep highlighted the ongoing struggle between the secular establishment and the Islamic-oriented government — and left many wondering if the military no longer called the shots in a nation accustomed to viewing it as the pillar of the secular state.
The detention of 49 senior military officers, according to CNN-Turk television — including members of the elite class known as "Pashas," a title of respect harking back to Ottoman times — proved, at the very least, that such officials are no longer untouchable.
Turkey's secular military has ousted four governments since 1960, demonstrating its influence and place of power since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk created the republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc on Monday expressed regret over the 1961 hanging by coup leaders of a prime minister and two of his ministers. But he said that those days are over and that Turkey now was going through a normalization process.
"We could not even dream about things that we see happening now," Arinc told CNN-Turk television Monday. "Things will get better when those who were never accountable for their deeds begin to account for them."
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declined to comment Monday on the raids, saying they had been carried out on prosecutors' orders.
"It would not be appropriate for me to talk about an issue that is already handled by the judiciary," Erdogan said during a visit to Madrid.
Police teams raided the suspects' homes in eight cities on Monday.
The military's image had already been tarnished by allegations it was secretly planning to depose Erdogan's elected government for undermining secularism in this predominantly Muslim country.
The commanders detained Monday are reportedly accused of seeking to plant bombs at mosques to stir chaos at home to pave the way for a coup. They are also accused of allegedly conspiring to plan shooting down a Turkish warplane to trigger armed conflict with Greece in a bid to destabilize the Turkish government. The military strongly denied the allegations.
On Sunday, Erdogan said his government was preserving the rule of law, and had not given "a chance to those who tried to fly a course for Turkey outside law."
Several high-ranking members of Turkey's military were among those detained, including ex-deputy chief Gen. Ergin Saygun, former Air Force chief Gen. Ibrahim Firtina and Navy Chief Adm. Ozden Ornek. Several other senior admirals and generals were also among the suspects.
So far, prosecutors have charged more than 400 people in the case, including soldiers, academics, journalists and politicians.
No one has yet been convicted.
The detentions Monday followed the gathering of wiretap evidence and
the discovery of secret weapons caches — revelations that dealt a blow
to the military's credibility.
Erdogan also has dramatically curtailed the military's power, under EU
pressure, and reinforced civilian rule while bolstering democratic