At least 6,000 people have been detained in Turkey in relation to a failed coup, with more detentions expected, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said on national television.
“The judicial process on this will continue,” Bozdag said on Sunday, shortly before clashes between security forces and coup plotters broke out in areas across the country.
Turkish security forces clashed with coup plotters at Sabiha Gökçen Airport in Istanbul on Sunday evening, and at an air base in central Turkey.
Security forces fired warning shots near Istanbul’s second airport on the Asian side of the city but coup plotters did not return fire, a Turkish official told Reuters, adding that arrests were being made.
There were also clashes at an air base in Konya in central Turkey, the official said, adding that “the situation is under control”.
Among those arrested is General Bekir Ercan Van, commander of the Incirlik air base from which US aircraft launch airstrikes on Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militants in Syria and Iraq (ISIL, also known as ISIS), an official told Reuters.
The chief military assistant to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Ali Yazici, was also detained on Sunday, according to broadcaster CNN Turk.
News of the arrests came after Erdogan accused an exiled businessman and cleric, Fethullah Gulen, of orchestrating the violence and demanded the US extradite him.
Gulen, though, denies any involvement and has publicly condemned the events of Friday and Saturday.
Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington DC, said: “US Secretary of State John Kerry is now saying the US had neither knowledge nor assisted in the coup attempt. The US understands Erdogan is suspicious of Gulen.
“If Erdogan wants to extradite him for conspiracy and colluding with the coup [plotters], he [Kerry] said the Turkish government needs to provide very convincing, solid legal evidence.”
The government quickly began a purge of soldiers and judiciary officials allegedly connected to the plot after it became clear the attempt had failed on Saturday.
“There are still a few important soldiers on the run and being sought. I believe they will be captured shortly,” an official told Reuters.
During the attempted coup, 161 civilians and regular troops lost their lives in Istanbul and Ankara, according to government figures. More than 100 coup plotters were also killed, the military said.
For his part, Erdogan said Turkey was not seeking revenge.
“We are not after revenge. If they have guns and tanks, we have faith,” the president said, speaking at a funeral on Sunday for some of the civilians killed in the violence.
“Let us think before taking each step. We will act with reason and experience. The Gulen Movement’s step received its response. The putschists are the representatives of Gulen’s terrorist organisation.”
By Saturday evening, some 2,839 military personnel had been detained, with the number of arrests expected to rise, according to Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. The top judicial body, the HSYK, dismissed 2,745 judges on Saturday, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
‘One of the masterminds’
A senior Turkish official told Al Jazeera that at least two judges from the constitutional court and 10 judges from the HSYK had been detained.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said that the judges were detained based on “financial transactions and communications between the individuals in question and the putschists”, but added that detention did not necessarily mean conviction.
Another senior official, also speaking anonymously, told Al Jazeera that a top army general was also being held over his alleged involvement.
“General Erdal Ozturk, commander of the Third Army, has been detained,” he said.
“Our sense is that the would-be junta had made preparations for some time. They had determined which military officers would take over as governors, heads of government agencies … but they were forced to rush due to the upcoming Supreme Military Council meeting,” he said.
The official described Ozturk as “one of the masterminds” behind the plan.
The coup attempt began at around 19:30 GMT on Friday with the partial closure by troops of two major bridges over the Bosphorus in Istanbul as tanks moved into the streets and fighter jets were seen in the skies.
A member of the Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, Kani Torun, told Al Jazeera that the coup ‘leaders’ helped thousands to infiltrate “security forces, the army, police and judiciary”.
“If you look at this number [6,000 detained], it’s big, but not more than 10 or 20 percent,” he said. “This cult-like organisation is like a religious cult. They have their own agenda and they use their own agenda against a legitimate elected government. This group has always acted secretly.”
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies