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July 17 2008

A case is also brought against those planning a coup against the

WHAT do a retired general, a business tycoon, a convicted murderer and
a rabbi have in common? They may all be part of an ultra-nationalist
gang called Ergenekon that is bent on overthrowing Turkey’s AKP
government. Its modus operandi is allegedly to spread disinformation,
plant bombs, kill prominent citizens and foment such mayhem that the
army will intervene.

On July 14th prosecutors charged 86 people with being involved
in plotting against the AKP. Aykut Cengiz Engin, Istanbul’s chief
prosecutor, said the group’s alleged crimes included the murder of a
secular judge in Ankara in 2006 by a gunman who said he was avenging
a court ruling against the Islamic headscarf. Mr Engin said a long
indictment would be brought before an Istanbul court, which has a
fortnight to decide whether to take the case.

Ergenekon (the name of a mythical homeland from which Turkic tribes
were led by a she-wolf) has riveted the public ever since a cache of
weapons was found in a retired officer’s basement in Istanbul. Some
of them bore army serial numbers. Yet many believed the affair would
be hushed up, like earlier scandals that exposed the links between
security officials and organised crime.

Then in June came the mass arrests of around 50 people said to be
involved in Ergenekon, among them a shady retired general, Veli
Kucuk. Mr Kucuk is alleged to have had a hand in the extra-judicial
killings of Kurdish nationalists in the 1990s. More recently his name
was linked to the murder of Hrant Dink, an outspoken ethnic Armenian
editor, in Istanbul last year. The stakes were raised on July 1st with
the arrest of two more retired generals for allegedly plotting two
abortive coups against the AKP in 2004 . Details of the plans were
found in the leaked diaries of a former navy commander. Prosecutors
are preparing a separate indictment against the men, and the army
is co-operating.

This confounds the popular theory that Ergenekon is part
of the struggle between the AKP and the top brass. Indeed,
exhilarated liberals say the case proves that the army is no
longer untouchable. But some doubt it. A columnist for Milliyet,
a daily, reminded readers about a coup-maker "who darkened millions
of lives". She was referring to Kenan Evren, the army chief who led
the 1980 coup. He now lives in a seaside village painting nudes. Sacit
Kayasu, a lawyer who tried to bring the ex-general to justice in 2000,
has been struck off.