A secretive group that was exposed for plotting to crash Turkish military aircraft and kill their pilots to change the discourse in Turkish politics and advance an ultranationalist agenda was saved from legal troubles by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a Nordic Monitor investigation has determined.
According to documents seized by Turkish investigators during the execution of search warrants on the homes of two suspects, an organized crime syndicate stole military documents and developed plans to crash trainer planes based on the weaknesses of the aircraft. The scandalous revelation emerged when the documents were examined by the police, who were investigating the criminal enterprise and its links to operatives in the Turkish Armed Forces.
A three-page document titled x.doc included information about the crucial elements of the Cessna T-37 training plane, circumstances that would cause it to crash and listed the names of military technical personnel that would be used to sabotage the planes. It was seized in the possession of suspect Bilgin Özkaynak, the leader of the criminal outfit, and was discovered buried in an encrypted database called Pandora, which was later cracked by IT specialists mandated by the court.
The same document was also retrieved from the home of another suspect, Narin Korkmaz, who put the file in a folder named ByCasus in digital media. Korkmaz was one of the key operatives of the gang, which used her sexual appeal and that of other women to lure officers in a honey trap scheme in order to extract information and steal secret military documents. Another document found in her home, titled xpersoneli.xls, separately listed the names of military personnel who would be used to sabotage the T-37s.
In multiple wiretap recordings obtained under court authorizations, Korkmaz was found to often be talking to others about how she could get close to targeted officers using sex. She managed to get on to restricted bases and facilities using her contacts in the army although she was not part of the military and had no authorization to gain access to restricted sites. Photographic evidence included in the case file showed her posing on various bases with officers in a major breach of security at military installations.
Documents revealing the plans to sabotage Turkish T-37 military training planes:T37_sabotage_plan
The first document written by the gang listed six methods to rig a T-37 training plane so that it would crash. The first involves the command wires, which are not checked unless a pilot identifies a problem and reports it, the document noted. Since they are not visible from the outside, the pilot would not be able to notice the tampering of the wires, which would start functioning in the air after the maneuvering of the aircraft, causing the pilot to lose control and eventually crash. In the second option, tampering with the wing flaps could put the flight at risk; the slight damage would not be noticed by the pilot during takeoff but would destabilize the plane once in the air due to air pressure at high altitudes.
The third option offered by the gang highlighted the oil level in the plane’s engine. It stated that the oil level must be adjusted to the bare minimum that would allow the plane to take off but would cause a malfunction shortly afterwards, not even allowing the pilot to eject from the plane. It warned that the technician on the ground must not really check the oil as instructed before takeoff, instead green-lighting it without going through the checklist. Without drops of oil on the ground, which would have been seen if it was checked through the valve on the bottom of the plane, nobody would be able discover that the engine oil was actually tampered with, the document suggested.
The fourth tactic was to rig the braking system of the T-37, which lacks an ABS system. A hole in the hydraulic lines, the wrong placement of brake discs or insufficient tire pressure would cause the pilot to lose control during landing, leading to possible death and the loss of the plane. Another option was to tamper with the tail and the rudder, which functions as a stabilizer for the aircraft in the air. It stated that the screws that fasten these parts to the plane are checked by the pilot before takeoff but noted that the real fastener is buried at the bottom and is difficult to be checked by the pilot. If they were tampered with, the aircraft would spin out in the air, leading to a crash.
The last option was the deadliest of all that were suggested and pointed to mixing the plane’s oxygen with a deadly or nauseating gas. It underlined that the pilot who would be selected as a victim in this scheme should be a promising, successful candidate but with little experience with the T-37.
The document listed the names of 18 people who could be used to implement this plot: Lt. Kerem Akçalı; first sergeants Satılmiş Yılmaz, Ahmet Çantancı, Yusuf Yüksel, Mustafa Fidan, Ömer Teke, Cuneyit Yalçın, Ümit Dağdeviren, Bora Bozkır, Hamit Taşdemir, Murat Ergezen, Osman Türk, Altan Gökalp and Ali Çakıcı; and sergeants Hamdi Barış, Hakan Koçum, Süleyman İzmirli and Muhsin Bıyık. They were working in the maintenance and control units on the ground for this type of plane.
In the indictment filed against the suspects, the prosecutor said the document revealed the shocking details of how far the gang was willing to go. “Through this document It is clearly understood that the criminal network organized itself in a such a way to even kill pilots and crash planes of the Turkish Armed Forces and set up a professional team that could carry out such acts,” the prosecutor stated in the indictment.
A separate document seized from Korkmaz, xpersoneli.xls, had more detailed notes about the technical teams, how they were divided into sub groups and explained their role in detail on how to sabotage the planes. More names were listed in this document, which described how each one of them would proceed in tampering with the plane: Arda Dogan Savaş, Cemal Emre Gürsoy, Emre Yardım, Ömer Çankaya, Mustafa Yıldırım, Dinçer Kılavuz, Levent Tör, Onur Plevne, Alpaslan Bozkurt, Vural Yeniev, Ümit Dağdeviren and Adnan Şenol.
The metadata of the document x.doc indicated that it was last saved on September 25, 2010 at 23:55 hours.
There have been 12 accidents involving T-37 planes in Turkey since it was put into service in 1964. In July 2011 a T-37 military training plane crashed into the Aegean Sea off the coast of İzmir province, killing Capt. Hasan Öztürk and Lt. Erol Er. In January 2012 another T-37 crashed, killing Lt. Serkan Sağır and Pakistani Maj. Masood Hussain Chhachhar.
Both suspects who possessed these documents as well as others in the criminal organization were arrested in 2012 at the order of prosecutors. More arrests were made after further evidence was obtained from the suspects and their homes and workplaces. In the end 357 suspects including 55 active duty officers and numerous retired officers were indicted when the prosecutor filed criminal charges against the gang in 2013.
However, the criminal case against the gang members was quashed by the Erdoğan government, and all the suspects were let go in 2014. Korkmaz and Özkaynak, who served some time in pretrial detention after being indicted, were acquitted of all charges in February 2016 by judges appointed to oversee the case by the Erdoğan government. The original prosecutors, judges and police investigators who uncovered this massive criminal enterprise during two years of work were punished either by dismissal or arrest on trumped-up charges.