Maj. Gen. Mustafa Bakıcı, for whom an İstanbul court issued an arrest warrant in August as part of a probe regarding the establishment of several websites that allegedly ran propaganda campaigns against civilian groups on behalf of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), has fled to Russia to evade arrest, Turkish media reported on Friday.
Bakıcı, who was the commander of the 23rd Border Division Command, was assigned to a desk job at the Land Forces Command’s inspection department during this year’s Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) due to his suspected involvement in the anti-government website campaign. He was among the 14 suspects for whom the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court issued arrest warrants as part of the investigation on Aug. 8 after an indictment prepared by the prosecutor overseeing the case was accepted by the court.
After an appeal he filed against the arrest warrant was rejected, he was hospitalized at the Gülhane Military Academy of Medicine (GATA) shortly after the arrest warrant was issued and had recently been released from GATA. He began his new position at the Land Forces Command but submitted a petition for one month of leave that was approved by his superiors. The general’s whereabouts have been unknown since then.
Bakıcı, who refused to turn himself in to prosecutors, reportedly submitted a petition to the Land Forces Command via his wife and requested retirement. Although the General Staff’s legal department opposed his retirement on the grounds that the general should have been handed over to civilian prosecutors and that approving his retirement would be illegal, his petition for retirement was approved in the end and he retired on Sept. 20.
After Bakıcı’s family said they didn’t know where he was, police informed border gates and airports of the situation and discovered that Bakıcı had left the country and fled to Russia through northern Iraq. He was also discovered to have withdrawn all the money from his bank accounts, which some reports say amounted to TL 300,000, before his escape.
Bakıcı is among the key suspects in the ongoing investigation into the alleged anti-government websites. The investigation into the propaganda websites began in 2010 based on evidence found in the home of retired Col. Hasan Ataman Yıldırım, another suspect in the website case. Later, an anonymous tipster from inside the military sent an email to inform the public and the prosecutors that the General Staff had established 42 websites for the sole purpose of disseminating propaganda about the government and religious communities.
There are a total of 22 suspects in the propaganda website case who are being accused of attempting to overthrow the government and of leading and being a member of an armed terror organization. They are also accused of categorizing military officers according to their religious or political beliefs, possibly for future reference. Fourteen officers on active duty, four retired military officers and a public servant have been accused in the indictment.
The content of the websites indicates that they were used as part of the Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism allegedly drafted by Col. Dursun Çiçek. Çiçek’s suspected plan of action details a military plan to destroy the image of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the faith-based Gülen movement in the eyes of the public, play down the Ergenekon investigation and gather support for members of the military arrested as part of the investigation into Ergenekon, a clandestine organization nested within the state and bureaucracy accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
Bakıcı’s previous secret visit to N. Iraq
Bakıcı faced some serious accusations in May as part of a controversy that started with the killing of 12 PKK terrorists trying to enter Turkey through northern Iraq on May 14, some of whose bodies were left on Iraqi soil, allegedly on the orders of Bakıcı. The controversy regarding Bakıcı was reported on by Taraf’s Emre Uslu, who claimed that Bakıcı had gone to northern Iraq for a secret visit without notifying officials about a week before the Şırnak raid in which 12 militants were killed occurred. Uslu alleged that the timing was suggestive of a deeper plan.
Uslu also claimed that Bakıcı and other generals in the region were deliberately trying to offend people in the area -- for example, by leaving PKK militants’ bodies at the scene as opposed to the customary practice of returning them to their families -- in order to raise anti-government sentiment ahead of the elections held on June 12.
Not first instance of fugitive general
Bakıcı’s escape is not the first instance in which a general has fled the country to avoid arrest. Retired Brig. Gen. Levent Ersöz, who is accused of membership in Ergenekon also remained at large for months before his arrest in 2009. Ersöz disappeared shortly ahead of a wave of detentions as part of the Ergenekon investigation in July 2008 and also fled to Russia.