ISTANBUL — Turkey intensified a crackdown Monday on people allegedly linked to a failed coup plot, sacking more than 8,000 police in what U.S. and other Western officials fear could be an all-out purge by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Thousands of military officers, soldiers and other alleged conspirators have already been detained and fired amid concerns of chaos in Turkey’s powerful military following an attempt to overthrow Erdogan’s government late Friday. The country is a NATO member and important player in a U.S.-led international military coalition against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.
Turkish media reported that prosecutors started interrogating more than two dozen generals, including the alleged coup leader. The reports said at least 30 governors — more than a third of the total — have been fired.
Authorities dismissed more than 8,000 members of Turkey’s police force nationwide in connection with the coup attempt, a senior official said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The international community has strongly backed the Turkish government against the coup, but the extent of the recent purges has alarmed Western nations.
Kerry cautioned Turkey on Monday over the arrest campaign and warned that NATO would scrutinize it in the coming days to ensure that Turkey adheres to the alliance’s requirements for democracy and the rule of law.
“NATO also has a requirement with respect to democracy,” Kerry told reporters, after European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned against executing coup plotters.
Kerry said explicitly that the United States wants evidence, not just allegations, of the involvement of a Turkish dissident residing in the United States before it would consider meeting a Turkish request for his extradition. The Erdogan government has accused Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic scholar who lives in Pennsylvania, of fomenting the coup attempt.
Mogherini said Monday that the rule of law and system of checks and balances must be respected in the coup’s aftermath. She warned that Turkey could not expect to join the European Union, as it seeks to do, if it imposes the death penalty on coup plotters.
Fighter jets, meanwhile, patrolled the skies, and people seemed on edge over the potential for more unrest in this NATO member country and key ally of the United States.
In a sign of the ongoing tension, a man dressed in a military uniform opened fire at the main courthouse in the capital, Ankara, said a senior official. The man was detained and there were no casualties, the official added. Roads in the area were cordoned off by police.
At least 312 people died during the coup attempt, including 145 civilians and 104 coup supporters, according to the latest government figures.
With the news of the latest wave of firings, the Erdogan government seems to have turned on the police forces, even though they joined thousands of fellow Turks over the weekend who heeded the president’s call to take to the streets and oppose the renegade soldiers trying to seize power.
The coup attempt has apparently given Erdogan the opportunity to further concentrate power in his hands. The nationwide arrests and dismissals have unsettled a country that was already bitterly divided over what many describe as a years-long effort by the Turkish leader to cripple his rivals and weaken independent institutions.
The president has also suggested restoring capital punishment, which was abolished in 2004, to deal with the coup plotters.
The statement earned a sharp rebuke from Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz ahead of a meeting with fellow European Union ministers. Kurz called it “absolutely unacceptable.”
“There must be no arbitrary purges, no criminal sanctions outside the framework of the rule of law and the justice system,” he said in newspaper interview published Monday.
At the meeting itself, the E.U. commissioner negotiating with Turkey over joining the union charged that Turkey had prepared purge lists ahead of time and called the government’s response “exactly what we feared.”
Arrest warrants have also been issued for at least 2,745 judges and prosecutors across the country, according to Turkish media reports.
The purge has raised alarm among critics who see it as an attempt by Erdogan to further marginalize all forms of opposition.
It comes as the country is mired in a string of crises, including deep divisions over the role of Islam in Turkish politics, worsening unrest within the large minority of Kurdish citizens and spillover from the civil war in neighboring Syria.
Turkey’s defense minister told Erdogan supporters to stay in the streets for now, warning that the threat of the coup was not over.
“The coup was prevented, but we can’t say the threat is gone,” said Fikri Isik, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency. “We ask you to closely follow every statement of Mr. President and stay in the squares.”
Loveday Morris in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.