One Turkish officer based in Virginia is seeking asylum in U.S.; others missing from their posts
Photo: The Turkish Embassy in Athens. Two Turkish military attachés posted in Greece with their families have disappeared in the wake of the July 15 failed coup. Photo: MICHALIS KARAGIANNIS/REUTERS
By Dion Nissenbaum and Emre Peker
Updated Aug. 11, 2016 3:48 p.m. ET
ISTANBUL—Turkey’s government is seeking several overseas military officers and diplomatic staff who fled their posts in the wake of the failed coup and could be seeking asylum, potentially raising new political headaches for the country and its Western allies.
Two Turkish military attachés posted in Greece and their families disappeared just before a request from Turkey on Sunday to have Athens revoke their diplomatic passports, a person familiar with the matter said.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the Turks had boarded a ferry bound for Italy, but that their current whereabouts were unknown.
In addition, one Turkish military officer stationed at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s allied command in Norfolk, Va., has requested asylum in the U.S., according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency and a U.S. official familiar with the matter. Rear Adm. Mustafa Zeki Ugurlu hasn’t been heard from since leaving the NATO base July 22—a week after the failed coup, Anadolu said.
NATO officials referred a request for comment to Turkey.
Meanwhile, two Turkish civil servants in Bangladesh fled to New York, and another in Kazan, Russia, went to Japan after the coup attempt, Mr. Cavusoglu said. Turkish authorities are in contact with their foreign counterparts to secure their return, he said.
U.S. officials declined to comment on that case and Japanese officials didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request.
Greek officials declined to comment on the two military attachés who had been posted in Greece.
A spokeswoman for Italy’s Interior Ministry said Turkey has informed it of the possible presence of the two attachés in Italy and the ministry is conducting some checks to verify it.
How Turkey’s allies deal with the missing diplomats could have significant impact on already tense relations with Ankara. Washington and European Union capitals are trying to balance support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the wake of the July 15 coup attempt, in which 271 people were killed, and concern about the crackdown that followed against perceived enemies of the state.
The Turkish government imposed a state of emergency in July and launched a sweeping campaign against those it accuses of links to Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Turkish imam whom Turkey says directed the coup.
More than 18,000 people, including top military officers, have been arrested and thousands of others detained. Thousands of teachers have been suspended, university deans have been forced to resign, dozens of journalists have been arrested, and businesses with alleged links to Mr. Gulen have been shut.
Mr. Gulen, whose organization is designated a terror group in Turkey and who is on Turkey’s most-wanted list, has repeatedly denied playing any role in the failed military takeover.
Western officials have urged the government to be judicious in its response, expressing concern about respect for the rule of law. That has inflamed tensions with Mr. Erdogan, who has accused some allies of aligning themselves with the coup-plotters.
He is demanding that the U.S. extradite Mr. Gulen, but U.S. officials have told The Wall Street Journal that they haven’t seen sufficient evidence for that judicial process to succeed.
As part of its hunt for alleged Gulen supporters, the Turkish government has ordered the return of some officials serving abroad. Mr. Cavusoglu said that on the night of the coup attempt, some Turkish military attachés abroad had notified ambassadors that the armed forces had taken over.
Turkey has received some help from other countries. Saudi Arabia detained the Turkish attaché from Kuwait as he was trying to leave, and the United Arab Emirates sent back from Dubai two brigadier generals who had been based in Afghanistan, the foreign minister said.
As for the two military attachés in Greece, Mr. Cavusoglu said Greek officials spotted the men and their families boarding an Italy-bound ferry after reviewing CCTV footage at Turkey’s request.
One of the Turkish attachés has family in the Netherlands and might be heading there, he said.
Turkey also has asked Greece to return eight Turkish military personnel who flew a Turkish helicopter to Greece as the coup crumbled. The eight await Greek court decisions on their asylum requests.
Marcus Walker in Athens and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this article.