Bulgaria has extradited former Turkish military officer Levent Göktaş, a controversial name of the past two decades, Turkish media reported on Friday.
Göktaş, who was brought to Istanbul by Turkish Interpol officers yesterday evening, was later arrested by court and put into prison, the media said.
The retired colonel was a former member of the Turkish military’s Special Forces Command, an elite unit established in 1992 at the height of the armed conflict between the Turkish Armed Forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Göktaş allegedly played an important role in forcing PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan to leave his base in Syria in 1998 and was a part of the team that captured Öcalan in Kenya a year later and brought him to Turkey.
His former role in special forces makes Göktaş one of the high-profile names that can shed light on Turkish state’s crimes in southeast Turkey in the 1990s, however the reason of his arrest is not related to the Kurdish conflict.
The former colonel, who studied law after retirement and became a lawyer, is accused of premeditating the 2002 assassination of Necip Hablemitoğlu, an academic working in Ankara University’s history department.
Both Göktaş and Hablemitoğlu, who researched illegal organisations as well as German foundations operating in Turkey, were at the time competing to become the new head of the Turkish intelligence, according to media.
The prosecutors accuse Göktaş of cooperating with the Gülen religious group to murder Hablemitoğlu. However, allegations over Göktaş’s ties with Gülenists have raised eyebrows in Turkey, as the colonel was jailed in 2009 and released in 2015 in relation to the Ergenekon trials, which are today seen as a plot orchestrated by the Gülen group to jail its opponents.
During his six years in prison, many nationalist Turkish journalists objected to his arrest, underlining and praising the role he played in the fight against the PKK.
Göktaş escaped to Bulgaria, after it became clear that he would be arrested in relation to Hablemitoğlu’s assassination.
In July, an unverified Twitter account claiming to be Göktaş, shared some posts on social media, threatening some people that “they would also get burnt, if he was to get burnt”. The account, which according to Göktaş’s lawyers did not belong to him, was later suspended and closed.
Saturday Mothers, a group who have been organising weekly vigils to seek justice for the victims of disappearances and extra judicial killing that took place in Turkey’s southeast in the 1990s, also shared posts on Twitter in July in relation to Göktaş’s role in the murder of two people.
The group cited a former translator of the Turkish military, who in 2009 told Sabah daily that Göktaş himself added those two people to the murder list. The translator also claimed that he arrested and handed those two people to Göktaş and later learned that they were killed after their interrogation.
“However Levent Göktaş was never tried in relation to those allegations,” the group said on Twitter, calling for the judiciary to fulfil their responsibility and ensure that justice is served.