ATHENS/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Greece said on Friday it was expecting an extradition request from Turkey for two Turkish soldiers who have claimed asylum and are suspected by Ankara of links to last year’s failed coup attempt.
The naval commandoes are accused of being members of a team that attempted to assassinate President Tayyip Erdogan on the night of July 15, a Turkish security official told Reuters.
Eight other members of the Turkish military flew to Greece by helicopter last year in the aftermath of the failed attempt to topple President Tayyip Erdogan.
Greece’s top court has declined to extradite them, in a case which has strained relations between NATO allies Greece and Turkey.
“We would expect that Turkey will submit an extradition request (for the two) ... this case looks a lot more serious,” a Greek government official said, without giving details.
The Turkish security official confirmed that was likely but did not say whether the request had been formally submitted.
“They have been on the run since (the coup) and are being sought,” the security official said, giving their names as Fatih Arik and Halit Cetin. He confirmed that Turkish authorities were in touch with their Greek counterparts over the issue.
The two men, former members of a special operations unit in Turkey’s navy, have been held at an undisclosed location in northern Greece since applying for asylum on Feb. 20.
Since the failed coup, which Ankara says was orchestrated by U.S.-based cleric Fetullah Gulen, some 40,000 people have been arrested in Turkey and more than 100,000 sacked or suspended from the military, civil service and private sector.
Gulen denies the allegations.
The trial of 47 Turkish soldiers charged with attempting to kill Erdogan during the failed coup is under way in the southern city of Mugla, near the luxury resort where Erdogan and his family evaded the soldiers, fleeing in a helicopter before their hotel was raided.
Three of those suspects are being tried in absentia. Arik and Cetin are not part of that indictment, according to a copy obtained by Reuters.
“They initially claimed doing different professions ... when we ascertained their identity, we realised they were members of the military,” a Greek police official told Reuters.
Greece’s defence minister Panos Kammenos told Ant1 TV:
“Greece condemned the coup attempt from its inception, and from there on it’s Greece’s courts which will decide, based on Greek laws and international conventions, the extradition or not of someone who seeks asylum.”
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Lefteris Papadimas and Michele Kambas; Editing by Andrew Roche