Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan has told the US cable TV station CNN that he escaped death by only a few minutes before coup plotters stormed the resort in southwest Turkey where he was vacationing last weekend.
Erdogan’s interview was broadcast late Monday. He told CNN that soldiers supporting the coup killed two of his bodyguards when they stormed the resort early Saturday.
“Had I stayed 10, 15 additional minutes, I would have been killed or I would have been taken,” he told CNN through a translator provided by the presidency.
According to the Middle East Eye citing al-Jazeera Arabic and the Turkish daily Hurriyet on Sunday, a senior military figure tipped off Erdogan that pro-coup forces were moving in on his position.
Turkish First Army Commander Umit Dundar, according to the reports, called Erdogan an hour before the push to oust him began late Friday night to warn him of the plans to overthrow his rule and of an attempt to “kill or capture” him.
Hurriyet reported that Turkish special forces backed by helicopters stormed the hotel where Erdogan was staying in Marmaris, but the president was already on his way to Istanbul.
Witnesses reported hearing explosions and overhead helicopter noise at the hotel on Friday night.
A dramatic video showed CCTV footage from the Marmaris hotel as rebel troops stormed it and exchanged fire with the president’s men.
A Reuters report Saturday said that Erdogan’s plane was also “harassed” en route from Marmaris to Istanbul to quash the coup but that the two pro-coup pilots who had the plane in their sights did not fire.
“At least two F-16s harassed Erdogan’s plane while it was in the air and en route to Istanbul. They locked their radars on his plane and on two other F-16s protecting him,” a former Turkish military officer told Reuters.
According to the Daily Sabah, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim was also the target of an assassination or capture attempt but managed to escape.
Revealing new details of the night of the coup, Erdogan told CNN the renegade soldiers were in control of the command and control towers at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport for hours before forces loyal to the president were able to regain control. He said that about 10,000 supporters were at the airport to greet him when his plane landed.
He also said that power was shut off at all military bases, including the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey used by the US-led coalition jets fighting the Islamic State group, because the military didn’t want to risk having the conspirators use them.
Western leaders have pushed Turkey to follow the rule of law as the massive retaliatory purge adds to existing concerns about human rights and democracy in the strategic NATO country.
Prime Minister Yildirim said the plotters would be brought to account but Turkey would “act within the law.”
But Erdogan added fuel to the fire, reiterating that bringing back the death penalty is not off the table for the coup plotters.
“There is a clear crime of treason,” Erdogan told CNN in his first media interview since the chaotic events of Friday night.
“The leaders will have to come together and discuss it. If they accept to discuss it, as the president, I will approve any decision to come out of the parliament.”
Turkey has sacked almost 9,000 officials in its relentless crackdown against suspected coup plotters, authorities said Monday.
Yildirim said another 7,500 people have been detained, including 103 generals and admirals.