ANKARA, Turkey — Murat Ilik died a week short of his 25th birthday. An F-16 jet hijacked by coup plotters bombed the police headquarters where he was based, killing him and at least 40 others.
Distraught friends and relatives consoled each other at the Ankara hospital where he was treated.
But some of the mourners were still waiting for news of another loved one who might have been caught up in the coup — on the other side of the violence.
Fathi Unal, 35, a soldier, has not been heard from since renegade parts of the armed forces commandeered tanks, helicopters and fighter jets in their attempt to seize control Friday night.
As Turkey reeled from the shock of the surprise power grab, the family was trying to make sense of how they could have been caught on both sides of the attempted coup. At least 232 people were killed in the unrest, according to the government’s figures. Civilians were mowed down by tanks and hit by helicopter fire, while the rebel faction of the military also used F-16s to target parliament.
“They were both serving their country,” said Fahrettin Koksal, 55, Unal’s uncle and also a relative of Ilik’s, as he sat in the hospital yard. If Unal was involved he would have been simply following orders, he said, unwittingly entangled in a higher power struggle.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blamed the conspiracy on Fethullah Gulen, a cleric and ally-turned-foe now in self-imposed exile in the United States. Gulen in turn has implied that Erdogan may have staged the coup as an excuse to crush his opponents.
Having decisively triumphed over the plotters, Erdogan has embarked on a swift and extensive purge of his security forces as he attempts to reassert control. Some 2,800 soldiers have been arrested, while 8,000 police officers have been sacked.
The number of detained soldiers includes “many foot soldiers and people who were serving in the military as part of their legal obligations,” said a senior Turkish official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in line with government protocol, adding that it is up for the courts to decide their involvement.
There is little sympathy for them among Erdogan’s most fervent supporters, some of whom have called for the return of the death penalty to deal with the perpetrators.
Since the coup attempt, crowds have gathered in the country’s squares for three straight nights to show support for the president, though fewer people showed up at Ankara’s Kizilay Square on Monday.
Emrah Mujde, 28, had traveled with friends from the city of Yozgat, 100 miles east.
“We came for our country, for our people, for Islam and for the president,” he said Sunday night, adding that anyone involved in the coup attempt should be hanged.
“They should bring them here so we can lynch them,” he said. “Those bandits can’t divide this country.”
Pictures and videos have circulated on social media alleging to show some in custody who appear to have been beaten.
Some soldiers were killed in the streets Friday as Erdogan asked his supporters to mobilize to stop the coup, but Koksal said he believes that his nephew was detained. The family had called hospitals but had no news of him.
“We think he was taken into custody, but we don’t know,” he said.
Sitting next to him in the hospital yard was Ali Uzun, Ilik’s uncle and also a distant relative of Unal. “The lower ranks didn’t know what they were doing,” he said. “They didn’t mean any harm for their country.”
He blamed the higher ranks, as well as Gulen, and the United States for allowing him to stay there. In an interview with CNN on Monday, Erdogan said he would request Gulen’s extradition in connection with the coup attempt.
More than 100 generals have been detained in the roundup, while several dozen members of the security forces remain on the run. The judiciary has also been purged.
Erdogan has described the coup as a “gift from God,” stoking conspiracy theories that he allowed it to go ahead.
“All these high-level plotters were known by the state,” Uzun said.
Added Koksal, “It’s part of a plan for Erdogan to try and clean the military of any opposition.”
But Turkish officials say that the purge was justified and that though they had tracked Gulen’s supporters, they had not expected a coup to take place.
Turkey’s capital saw some of the worst violence, with parliament and police bases bombed from the air. Images from inside parliament show doors and windows blasted off, broken glass and debris covering the floors.
On the street outside, bloodstains mark the pavement where witnesses said civilians were gunned down. Clothes and shoes lost in the chaos still lie abandoned behind police cordons.
Some 261 casualties were brought into the hospital where Ilik died.
“Some had lost arms or legs,” said Vokan Yesilyurt, a hospital orderly. Many had been hit by tanks.
Mourners have filled the city’s mosques for a steady flow of funerals for the victims, with coffins lined up and draped in Turkish flags again Monday as people gathered.
At the police base where Ilik was mortally wounded, the red-tile roof of the building caved in and a front wall was ripped off, exposing rows of bunk beds inside.
Windows of the cars in the parking lot opposite were blown out by the force of the blast.
In the end, Uzun said his nephew’s death felt particularly futile. “He was a person who loved his country, who loved his people,” he said.
Ilik had served in the country’s restive southeast, where the government has been battling Kurdish separatists.
“The traitors couldn’t bring him down,” Uzun said. “But the army of his own country killed him in vain.”