Security members stand at the entrance of the courthouse in Istanbul on Tuesday, where prosecutors interrogated 51 Turkish military commanders over alleged plans to destabilize the country. ((Ibrahim Usta/Associated Press))

Prosecutors on Tuesday interrogated 51 Turkish military commanders, including former air force and navy chiefs, over alleged plans to destabilize the country by blowing up mosques to trigger a coup and topple the Islamic-rooted government.

It was the highest profile crackdown ever on the Turkish military, which has ousted four governments since 1960. For decades Turkey's senior officers, self-appointed guardians of the country's secular tradition, called the shots.

But the balance of power in this EU-candidate country appeared to have shifted Monday as police rounded up the 51 military commanders, following the gathering of wiretap evidence and discovery of an alleged secret coup plan, dubbed "the sledgehammer."


The government of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan insists Tuesday's sweep is not designed to silence political opposition. ((Susana Vera/Reuters))

The nationwide sweep was launched after experts determined military documents leaked by Taraf, a daily newspaper, were authentic, an English-language newspaper reported Tuesday.

The government denies the crackdown is politically motivated or designed to silence government critics, as is claimed by opposition parties.

Suspects include generals, admirals

The suspects included former air force chief Gen. Ibrahim Firtina and navy chief Adm. Ozden Ornek, who allegedly chronicled some failed coup attempts, as well ex-deputy chief Gen. Ergin Saygun.

All of the suspects, including nearly two dozen retired and active duty generals and admirals, were expected after questioning to appear Tuesday in an Istanbul court that is hearing all coup plot allegations.

The suspects face charges of attempting to topple the government by force, and membership in an illegal organization for that purpose, the Istanbul-based Milliyet newspaper reported Tuesday.