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Leagues: Turkish Super League

Turkey seeks arrest of football hero in coup probe

Istanbul (AFP) – Turkey issued an arrest warrant for its former star footballer Hakan Sukur over last month’s failed coup as Ankara said Friday it had detected the first progress in persuading the United States to extradite the alleged mastermind of the putsch.

With the shockwaves from the July 15 coup aimed at unseating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shaking Turkey four weeks later, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said 32 diplomats recalled to Ankara were still missing.

Turkey has blamed the coup on the US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen. Cavusoglu said Friday he had seen the first positive signs Washington could extradite him.

Prosecutors in Sakarya province east of Istanbul have charged Sukur with “membership of an armed terror group”, the state-run Anadolu agency said, referring to what Ankara calls the Fethullah Terror Organisation (FETO). 

Gulen denies such a group exists and has rubbished accusations that he masterminded the coup.

A warrant on identical charges was also issued for Hasan Sukur’s father, Selmet Sukur, and he was later detained after emerging from Friday prayers at a mosque in Adapazari, the main town in Sakarya province.

In another measure against the Sukur family, a court ordered the seizure of assets of the father and the son, including several properties and villas in Istanbul and the Aegean, the Dogan news agency said.

– ‘Fastest World Cup goal’ –

The former striker is believed to be in the United States and Turkish media said an Interpol Red Notice would be requested for extradition.

Sukur was one of the stars of Turkey’s third-place performance in the 2002 World Cup and a household name in the football-mad country.

With a career stretching from 1987 to 2007, Sukur is by far the most prolific goalscorer in the history of the Turkish national side, finding the net 51 times in 112 appearances.

He was a stalwart for Istanbul side Galatasaray but also had stints abroad for Inter Milan, Parma and Blackburn Rovers.

His goal after just 11 seconds of play against South Korea in 2002 remains the fastest goal in World Cup history.

After football, Sukur went into politics and was elected an MP with Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2011.

But he resigned in 2013 after a vast corruption probe that targeted Erdogan and his inner circle, siding with the movement of Erdogan’s arch-foe Gulen. 

Sukur had voiced objections to the government move to shut down schools run by Gulen’s movement. He had gone on trial in absentia in June on charges of insulting Erdogan on social media.

– ‘Some positive signals’ –

He is not the only Turkish sports star caught up in the controversy after the coup bid.

The family of Enes Kanter, one of the most prominent Turkish basketball players in the NBA, disowned him after he openly supported Gulen after the coup.

Turkey has repeatedly pressed Washington to extradite Gulen and has expressed exasperation at what it has seen as the slow US response to the requests.

But Cavusoglu for the first time said Friday Ankara had started to receive “some positive signals” from Washington over his extradition.

Further documents relating to the case for his deportation were being drawn up to send to Washington, he said.

Writing in Saturday’s edition of French daily Le Monde, Gulen called for an international inquiry into the failed coup, vowing his “full cooperation” with any such probe.

He did not exclude that some supporters could have been involved in the coup but said this “cannot be blamed on all followers of the movement.”

Erdogan has vowed to eradicate what he calls the “virus” of Gulen from life in Turkey and the authorities have embarked on a relentless crackdown that has caused concern abroad.

According to Turkish officials over 35,000 people have been detained since the coup attempt that left 240 dead excluding the plotters. 

Almost 11,600 of these suspects have since been released but the rest are in jail facing trial or custody hearings.

Cavusoglu added 32 Turkish diplomats were still at large despite being recalled by Ankara following the coup and also confirmed a Turkish rear admiral had gone missing in the United States in July.

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