In Turkey, frightening moments of a coup attempt, with orders sent via a social media app

For The Los Angles Times:

ISTANBUL — The Turkish police officer boarded a crowded commuter bus heading toward Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul and snatched the keys from the driver, leaving him and the passengers in stunned silence.
A moment later, the driver at least managed a few words.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” he told commuters heading home at 10:50 p.m. last Friday on the E5, Istanbul’s major east-west artery.

Almost immediately, dozens of lightly armed police officers showed up, parking their minivans across the eight-lane thoroughfare, causing a traffic jam that stretched for miles. The police had come to preempt soldiers, who soon appeared in military jeeps to confront them.

“Go home. Don’t look!” shouted soldiers toting machine guns and wearing camouflage and body armor.
Seconds later, bursts of automatic gunfire sent onlookers running, as soldiers and police battled to gain control of the road.

Thousands of commuters, among them families with children, left their cars and looked for cover. But barriers along the roadside meant the only way to run was farther along the contested highway.
“Soldiers are coming. They are firing; they are fighting police!” screamed pedestrians streaming onto the road from exit and entry ramps.

As people in Turkey began realizing last week that a military coup attempt was underway, either through their own harrowing experiences or televised comments by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, many also learned that soldiers trying to take over the government appeared to be using the popular WhatsApp social media platform to communicate.
Urgent orders and updates were being sent via the app to different units across the country, according to Turkish prosecutors, who have shared transcripts of the messages exchanged that night.
“Important announcements here,” said an account with a username of Maj. Murat Celebioglu said shortly after 9 p.m. “Important developments will be sent from here to Ankara.”
While the authenticity of the correspondences cannot be independently verified, much of the information shared on the app matches accounts from witnesses in Istanbul during the first few hours of the coup attempt, as would-be putschists mobilized to take control of transportation infrastructure, state-run media and police and municipal headquarters.
The transcripts show the participants in the attempted coup were hoping for support from the public, large parts of which had become antagonistic toward President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his increasingly autocratic rule. When the support did not materialize, the soldiers were ordered to open fire.
The soldiers named their WhatsApp group “Peace at home,” a reference to a slogan used by the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who, in 1931, described the new nation’s foreign policy with the phrase “Peace at home, peace in the world.”

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