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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview with Senator James Risch; Martial Law in Turkey with Attempted Military Coup Under Way. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired July 15, 2016 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: coup under way.
A military uprising right now in Turkey. The armed forces there says it seized power from the government, but the prime minister says he remains in control. We are monitoring an unfolding crisis inside a key NATO ally.
Terror in France. The truck attack in Nice is now being investigated as act of terror. We have more information coming in, including chilling details of how the horror unfolded and about the victims, including dead and missing Americans.
And seconds thoughts? Sources are telling CNN that Donald Trump asked aides if he could rescind his vice presidential just hours after offering him the job. Trump is said to have been uncomfortable, feeling boxed in by his campaign. We have exclusive new reporting.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We are following multiple breaking news stories this house, including a military coup that's unfolding right now in Turkey, one of Washington's most important allies.
Both the Turkish government and the armed forces, they are claiming to be in control at this hour. Reuters is reporting soldiers are inside the offices of the state broadcaster. A short time ago, there was an announcement saying -- and I'm quoting now -- "Peace in the nation council is now in charge of the country."
Also breaking, new information about the truck attack that killed 84 people in the French city of Nice. We now know at least 10 children are among the dead, including a Texas boy who was killed along with his father. The driver killed by police is identified as a 31-year- old man who lived in France, but was born in Tunisia and moved to France 10 years ago. Investigators are trying to determine if he had ties to terror groups.
And there's breaking political news. Sources telling CNN Donald Trump asked about rescinding his running mate offer to Indiana Governor Mike Pence just hours after Pence accepted that offer. Trump allegedly was feeling pressured and boxed in by his own campaign, which is denying any second-guessing.
We're covering the breaking news this hour with our guests, including Senator James Risch. He is a key member of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees. And our correspondents and expert analysts, they are also standing by.
Let's begin with a coup unfolding right now in Turkey.
Our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working the story for us.
Jim, the Turkish military has just declared martial law.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Wolf, there is no question now that there's a coup under way. The only question is whether that coup will be successful.
Let's go over developments just in the last hour. As you say, martial law declared by the Turkish military. It includes a curfew, shutting down airports and ports, imposing this curfew, telling people to stay indoors. It includes soldiers going into the headquarters of state media and other outlets there, in effect controlling the media outlets, and also shutting down to making attempts to shut down social media.
You have still, though, the democratically elected president of Turkey making a defiant stand. He went on television. I should say he went on television in an extremely unconventional way. A reporter for a Turkish outlet holding up a phone as the president made this statement to the public via FaceTime on a phone.
Him saying in that statement, encouraging the people of Turkey to go to the streets, to, in his words, give them, that is, the coup plotters, your answer, encouraging, in effect, a popular uprising. He said he vowed to go to a square in Ankara, that is the capital of Turkey, himself. He has not been seen in public, though, other than that appearance on television via FaceTime.
You also have a statement from the Turkish prime minister. He said to CNN the democratically elected government of Turkey is still, in his words, in power. He goes onto say this democratically elected government will not tolerate attempts to "undermine our democracy."
More, Wolf, from the statement from the Turkish military, this said on the air from Turkish television stations that the military now controls. They say that the reason they try to justify this coup right now, they say due to corruption, they say due to undemocratic moves, what they called undemocratic moves by the President Erdogan.
They also brought up recent attacks, terror attacks, acts of terrorism, saying they are acting now to bring stability and safety to the company. U.S. officials are monitoring this. I have spoken to people in the
White House, to people in the State Department, the military. They're trying to discern exactly what is going on. We know the president has been briefed. We know that Secretary of State John Kerry has been briefed. He said recently at a press conference in Moscow that he hopes there will be continuity and stability in Turkey.
BLITZER: We are showing our viewers live pictures coming in from Turkey. A lot of people are out on the streets right now. It is well after midnight in Turkey right now.
We just, Jim, received a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara informing all U.S. citizens, in their words, shots have been heard in Ankara, bridges are now closed. The Turkish government states that elements of the Turkish army are attempting an uprising. Security forces are taking action to try to contain it. Some buildings are under blockade.
And this important message to all U.S. citizens. "We urge U.S. citizens," the U.S. Embassy says, "to contact family and friends and let them know you are safe. We have seen reports that social media is blocked. But you can contact friends and family by e-mail, telephone or SMS. We encourage U.S. citizens to shelter in place. Do not go to the U.S. Embassy or consulates at this time. Monitor local press for updates. Avoid areas of conflict. Exercise caution if you're in the vicinity of any military or security forces."
It sounds very ominous right there.
SCIUTTO: No question.
And the pictures we are seeing there now, as people go into the streets, it is possible they are heeding the call of the president of Turkey to go out in the streets and in effect take the country back from the military.
I just think as we watch this, how incredible -- we cannot underestimate how incredible this is. Turkey is country in Europe. It is a NATO ally, a key ally of the U.S. right on the front lines of this fight against ISIS and this tremendous instability there.
Wolf, it was only a couple of weeks ago we were talking about this horrible terror attack in Istanbul. We know that ISIS has a tremendous presence in Turkey. When you think, instability like this there gives opportunity for groups like that to strike.
As you hear the warnings from the U.S. Embassy for people who are there now, you have to keep that in mind that the only threat is not the military or the coup. The threat are terrorist groups there are that very active and might take advantage of a situation like this.
BLITZER: And people in Turkey are telling CNN they're hearing explosions right now and they're seeing jets fly over at low altitude.
Let me go to Barbara Starr over at the Pentagon. Barbara, Turkey is a critical U.S. ally, a NATO ally in the fight against ISIS right now. What are military officials saying to you? They are obviously monitoring this very closely.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I think the fact that they are monitoring and they still don't know what exactly is going on is just really underscoring how critical this is tonight that we are seeing a coup, and maybe even a potential countercoup in Europe with a NATO ally.
I think we have to be very clear. These pictures we see of Turkish military forces, it may not be entirely clear whether these are pro- government or pro-coup forces. This is a critical problem for the U.S., because it simply does not have a clear picture at this hour and, as Jim just said, ISIS watching all of this.
There are perhaps tens of thousands of Westerners in Turkey, including Americans on summer holiday. There is a shipping industry that goes through there. Getting stability is going to item number one.
Now, there are also thousands of U.S. troops in Southern Turkey at Incirlik Air Base. This is where they fly air combat missions into Syria, into Iraq and strike ISIS. This is a Turkish base. Who is in control of that Turkish base tonight? We do not know.
The problem for the U.S. military tonight is this. If there is a coup in Turkey, U.S. military policy is you don't do business in a country where a coup has taken place by force. Under policy, the U.S. military should pack up and go. But the ISIS obligation, the ISIS challenge is so severe, is such a high priority, the administration will have to decide if it overlooks frankly that there's been a coup and decides to stay.
But over the long term, which may only be the next few days, key decisions will have to be made. Will more U.S. troops have to be brought in to guard Incirlik? Will U.S. troops have to be brought in to reinforce the U.S. Embassy in Ankara? Will this develop?
Right now, it's not anti-American. Will there be an anti-American threat? Simply tonight, none of this is clear, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, we are showing our viewers these live pictures. It is past midnight in Turkey right now.
People are gathering on streets and they are moving around. This is an image that is happening all over the place, we're told, in Turkey right now.
Ivan Watson, one of our senior international correspondents.
Ivan, you have spent a lot of time in Turkey. We know there have been tensions between the Turkish military and the government of President Erdogan. But it's exploding right now. And now we are hearing explosions and gunfire. Let's listen in for a moment. Ivan, you heard the gunfire. You heard the explosions.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
BLITZER: You know Turkey well. This is -- it certainly is a surprise to a lot of people that this military coup is taking place.
WATSON: This is a power struggle that is playing out by the minute now, Wolf.
And what you have potentially is possibly two armed forces that could be in a position of clashing. You have clearly some elements of the military that are carrying out this coup that are out in the streets. And then you have the police force, which is believed to be much more loyal to the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
And from the eyewitness accounts we have heard, you have these two groups that are in some places facing off in squares outside Istanbul, Ataturk Airport, and a big question about who is in charge right now and potential for clashes between those armed forces.
In addition, you have the Turkish president, who has urged his supporters to go out into the streets. We have eyewitness accounts of them in some cases in some cities approaching tanks and trying to stop them or trying to surround them.
So, you have a very combustible situation here. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a very polarizing figure in Turkey, Wolf. He has succeeded in getting roughly 50 percent of the vote time and time and again in his more than 1-10 years in power. He has fervent supporters, but then there are also people that hate him and that have seen the military as a possible counterbalance to his efforts to grab more and more power in the Turkish state.
We do also have to look at the history here, Wolf. Turkey had four military coups in period of about half a century. But over the last decade, Erdogan had proved successful at taming the military. And earlier this year, the head of the military, the chief of staff, actually attended the wedding of Erdogan's daughter as a witness there, Hulusi Akar.
So whoever is behind this coup attempt presumably would not be the head of the military, but perhaps some other officers.
I have spoken with a career naval officer from Turkey, completely dumbstruck by these developments, saying: I'm on vacation right on Turkey. I'm on the coast by the beach. We are watching this happen on TV. The Navy officer saying: I don't know who is behind this coup.
It just goes to show how confusing and how fluid the situation is right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: These are live pictures we're showing from Istanbul, from the Ataturk International Airport. It is 1:13 a.m. Saturday morning already in Turkey. Soner Cagaptay is with us. He's the director of Turkish studies, the Turkish program at the Washington Institute.
You're extremely well plugged in to, Soner, into what's going on in Turkey. What's the latest you're hearing?
SONER CAGAPTAY, DIRECTOR, TURKISH RESEARCH PROGRAM, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: It is still a fluent situation because you still don't have a statement from the chief of staff saying this is or this is not a coup, though military has rolled out tanks into big cities.
The government and the president of the country has called on the people to resist the coup, if there's a coup attempt. And I think this is still a very divided country.
BLITZER: Look at these pictures, Soner.
BLITZER: You see these images on your screen right here. You look at the soldiers there. Armored vehicles on the streets. This is in Istanbul. It's the largest city in Turkey. Ankara is the capital. And the soldiers are there. They are clearly making a major move.
CAGAPTAY: They are.
And you're not seeing the public take over tanks. You're not seeing them resist the takeover. But, at the same time, you're seeing demonstrations. The worst thing for Turkey right now, that this would spiral into violence, if the people take up arms or the police, which is under government's control, for example, should resist the military.
And if there are splits within the military, with pro- and anti- government camps, I think that will be the worst also from U.S. perspective, because a very important ally would then be descending into chaos, an ally that the United States needs to fight ISIS.
Right now, Turkey is very crucial to the U.S. efforts to take that important corridor in Syria, the corridor that ISIS uses to smuggle weapons and fighters into Europe. So at this moment of crucial cooperation, of course, it would be very detrimental to both Turkey and the United States if this turned into a bloody civil war.
I hope it does not turn out to be the case. I hope that calm presides in Turkey.
BLITZER: You can hear the explosions. You can hear the gunfire in some of those live pictures that we're showing our viewers.
Once again, this is in Istanbul at the Ataturk International Airport. We're told all flights have been suspended.
But there's gunfire clearly going on in many parts of Turkey right now.
Go ahead, Soner.
CAGAPTAY: So there are flags in the hands of the demonstrators. It could be a sign of two things.
It could mean that they love the military. It could mean they love the government. It is really difficult to read the messages. But I think it is very clear that in a country which so deeply polarized, with supporters and opponents of President Erdogan, his party maxed out at 49.5 percent in two most recent elections, economy means half of the country adores him, but the other half of the country despises him.
This is a very dangerous development. If this is indeed a coup, if the military does not take full control of the situation in a few hours, it could well turn into a full chaotic situation.
BLITZER: This is the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul. We are getting these live pictures courtesy of Reuters. And you can see what is going on, Soner, on this critically bridge in Istanbul.
It looks -- and, remember, this is now 1:16 a.m. Saturday morning, this coup under way.
So a while ago, streets had emptied out. The military had issued a curfew. And now you're seeing crowds back on the streets following the call by the president for people to resist. It means his call has made an impact. It means some supporters of Erdogan and his party, AKP, have taken to the streets.
The question is, do they turn to violence or do they turn to peaceful resistance? How does the military respond? The Turkish military has never fired at its own people in the past. When it carried out coups, they were not chaotic affairs. They were executed fairly swiftly. There was no bloodshed during the coups.
If this is indeed a case of the people taking to the streets, it would suggest a different pattern than previous coup attempts, if this is indeed a coup. So, I think it's a very dangerous development. We could wake up to a Turkey that is stable. We could wake up to a Turkey that is incredibly chaotic.
It's a country that has already been targeted by terrorist attacks by the Islamic State, by the Kurdish PKK, which is also a terrorist group. And the last thing Turkey needs right now is of course descent into a very bloody civilian conflict. I hope that does not happen.
BLITZER: And within the past hour, you heard President Erdogan tell the people to go out into the streets. We are seeing people doing exactly that.
Stand by. I want to get more on the breaking news.
Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho is joining us. He is a key member of both the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.
Senator, thanks very much for joining us.
I know you have been briefed. What are you hearing about this coup in Turkey?
SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Well, first of all, Wolf, this is very disconcerting.
This is a really important ally of ours in a very critical place in the world. This thing came out of the blue. I mean, this is a real surprise to all of us. We have known for the last six to eight months there has been some turbulence within the country.
But an explosion like this was really unexpected. Right now, what it appears is the government is going to use the national police to try to calm what is very clearly a military coup that is going on. How widespread it is within the military, we are not exactly certain yet.
But in the past coups, it went throughout the military. So probably the best judgment right now is it is a full-blown military coup. We will have to wait and see how that plays out. Also it will be interesting see how the Turkish people react to this.
But you are going to see at least at the tip of the sword here the national police vs. the national military. And as has been pointed out in the program, we have a lot of interests in Turkey. There is a lot of American citizens in Turkey right now, certainly at the air base.
We have been using the air base and it has been critical in the fight against ISIS. Turkey has been under the gun from three different directions. They get it from the Kurds. They get it from the ISIS and they're getting it a little bit from the Syrian loyalists.
They have their interim struggles at home, because ever since Erdogan has been in power, he's tried more and more to give the country more of a religious bent, as opposed to a secular Turkey that the George Washington of modern Turkey, Ataturk, said was what Turkey was supposed to be. And that is a secular democratic country.
And, indeed, he charged the military with being the guardian of Turkey, being a secular and a democratic Turkey. So, Erdogan has really drifted from that since he's been in. He has been our ally. But it's been stronger before.
We need to keep this country as an ally. It's important. We need to deal with the -- with what happens here. I noted earlier that you had a discussion about what happens if it indeed the coup is successful, because, as you know, it is the policy of the United States that we deal with the legitimate elected government and not with coup-type governments.
That policy is going to have to be reviewed, obviously, if this is successful, because of -- this fight against ISIS is so important, and Turkey is so important in the location...
BLITZER: And you see people have really gone out in the streets in Istanbul, in Ankara. And they are angry right now.
You see these crowds that have gathered. You have heard gunfire. You have heard explosions. And they have seen low-flying jets flying overhead.
What is really disturbing, Senator Risch, is if in fact some sort of confrontation develops between elements of the military and elements of the national police, that could be bloody indeed, Senator.
RISCH: It will be bloody, if it indeed comes to that.
I am anxious to find out exactly where Erdogan is and what his security is. He is a pivotal person in the country and certainly in what is going on there. It is going to be important to see where he is and how secure he is.
BLITZER: He just made a statement to the people of Turkey.
He went on national TV, one of the stations. But he had to do it via FaceTime.
BLITZER: He couldn't even go to a studio. He couldn't even look into a camera.
Clearly, he was on vacation and he's trying to deal with this crisis. Presumably, Senator, the coup plotters in the military, they decided to do this, a good time, Friday night, the Muslim holy day of Friday, after sundown. They would be able to go ahead and launch this coup while Erdogan was on vacation, if you will.
But I'm sure you have been in touch with U.S. intelligence officials, U.S. experts on Turkey. There is a lot of interests that the United States has right now. Lots is at stake. It looks like that whole region, if you take a look at the terror attacks that is going on in Turkey, in France, in Belgium, is this, Senator, the new normal that we are all going to have to live with?
RISCH: Well, you hope not, but it has sure been drifting in that direction.
You can't help but wake up every morning when there isn't some type of a terrorist attack somewhere. We have just been overloaded in the last few days with these things. And certainly now this is going to overshadow probably what just happened in Nice, which was a horrific incident.
And so you hope it's not the new norm, but every day, it just continues on. And there has got to be a better strategy for dealing with this. And right now, what's being done certainly is shrinking the caliphate on the ground in Syria and in Iraq.
But it's kind of like squeezing on a balloon. Although you have been shrinking the land that they are holding in Syria and in Iraq, it is bulging out in other places. And, unfortunately, it is bulging out in places like France that is difficult to deal with.
BLITZER: Listen this gunfire that is going on right now. These are live pictures courtesy of Reuters in Istanbul. Listen to this.
RISCH: Wolf, we are getting reports of explosions in both Ankara and in other parts, but they are very spotty. But the gunfire appears to be in the precinct.
BLITZER: Yes, certainly is.
All right, Senator, stay with us. We are watching this military coup unfold. It is under way in Turkey right now, a key U.S. ally.
We will take a quick break. Much more on the news, the breaking news, right after this.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news.
A military coup is under way in Turkey right now. People have gathered. They are out in the streets in Istanbul, the largest city in Ankara, the capital. There is gunfire. We have heard it extensively, explosions, jets flying low overhead.
The president of Turkey, President Erdogan, saying he wants people to get out in the streets, the military declaring martial law. They say they are in power.
Nic Robertson knows Turkey well. He's joining us right now.
Nic, what are you hearing? What's your understanding of the latest developments?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, by calling people out on the streets, that clearly gives the military a challenge.
How do you treat the people on the streets? Because it will backfire on the military if they use force against the people that Erdogan has called out to challenge the authority that the military now says it has.
The backdrop to all of this, of course, the scene was set in part just a couple of months ago, Erdogan essentially ousting his prime minister -- essentially ousting his prime minister.
The Prime Minister wouldn't support him when he wanted to move more powers towards the -- towards the presidency, the prime minister essentially forced to step down. An even closer Erdogan ally was put in his place.
[18:30:18] But if we go back to last year to set the scene even a little better for our audience, Wolf, you had Erdogan's party in elections, early 2015. They saw their votes slip. They no longer -- the AKP party no longer had the majority in the country.
What happened then? One of the -- one of the parties that did well that eroded Erdogan's party's majority was a party -- a secular Kurdish party that drew support from the middle classeswho weren't Kurdish in the country.
What happened that summer? Erdogan went to war with the Kurds. The support for this secular moderate Kurdish party immediately wanted. There were reelections in the country. It looked like electoral engineering, anyway...
BLITZER: Let me interrupt you for a moment, Nic. We're showing our viewers -- these are live pictures.
ROBERTSON: And Erdogan's party won a significant amount of...
BLITZER: People crawling on the streets -- the streets right now. Gunfire and there are people who have just been injured. It looks like they've been shot on the streets of Istanbul right now. These are live images we're getting in.
These are very disturbing images right now that we're getting in.
Soner Chagaptai, you're watching this with us, as well. You see people lying on the streets. Apparently, they've been shot by gunfire. They're carrying people who are injured away. Can you believe this is happening on the streets of Istanbul?
CHAGAPTAI: I cannot, because a country with no tradition of the military fighting at -- firing at its own people or vice versa is now, for the first time, seeing conflict on the streets between the military, which is a conscript military, so it's universal -- everybody is in it -- and the people that are fighting.
So this definitely shows a very polarized society. I think part of it is a legacy of President Erdogan's strategy. He has won successive elections on a platform of economic governance but also demonized those that don't vote for him, oppressed the opposition, and has created a very polarized society, so that those who love him and those who hate it are now taking it to the streets.
There is no clean way, unfortunately, for Turkey to emerge from this. Either Erdogan will crush this with public support and it will become increasingly, amazingly, or rather in a very negative way, oppressive tomorrow to suppress any dissent, whatever remains of it, or the military will crush him and will become oppressive.
BLITZER: And look at these tanks that are moving now in into Istanbul, Jim Sciutto. These are pretty heavy tanks that are going in. It looks like the military has decided -- has decided, whatever the cost, they are going to take power and they're going to remove President Erdogan from power.
SCIUTTO: Well, they're certainly prepared to use military force. We have heard gunfire. We're broadcast it on our air. There are reports from the ground of gunfire directed at the presidential palace.
But I have to say this, Wolf, we are now three hours into this coup attempt, and the silence from the U.S., a NATO ally of Turkey, and other NATO allies. No statement, other than they are monitoring the situation from U.S. leaders or other NATO leaders in support of the democratically-elected government of a NATO ally. The silence is remarkable here.
Of course, it's difficult to assess what is happening, but that silence is something that I'm sure is very loud and consequential to the government of Erdogan and others, that they are not hearing those statements of support at this point.
BLITZER: Soner, you can see the people on the streets. They are protesting. You see the flag of Turkey flying. These people that you see on the streets, and they are in huge numbers, perhaps responding to President Erdogan, who said, "Get out in the streets." It's now past 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning in Turkey.
CHAGAPTAI: Not only that, but I'm seeing from my friends on Twitter that the imams that are Muslim clerics are making calls for mosques for people to rise up. So there's a real risk that it could take some religious dimension that, from it, with Islam versus secular, and with folks being split along those faultlines, of course, would be mobilized as a result of this call.
BLITZER: And Nic Robertson, we've seen people who have been injured and wounded on the streets. They've been shot. Lots of gunfire. We have heard explosions, low-flying fighter jets, and now tanks moving into Istanbul, other armored vehicles.
This is a real military coup, something that is discussed often but rarely seen, especially in a NATO ally, Nic. This is very, very disturbing. These are disturbing developments.
ROBERTSON: Wolf, it is going to be watched so closely throughout the region, not least in Moscow.
Let's just sort of look at the wider picture a little bit here. What's happening on the ground is very dangerous. It's very destructive. It is incredibly divisive at the moment. The passions are getting raised. This is a very worrying situation.
[18:35:14] But look. Look at the picture here. Moscow annexed Crimea in the Black Sea so that Moscow could have access to and use its Black Sea fleet, the Black Sea fleet, to be able to come out to the Mediterranean. It comes out to the Mediterranean through the Bosporus.
Right now, the Bosporus Sea is becoming very increasingly dangerous and precarious. So you have a situation, potentially now, potentially, where Russia can potentially see that its Black Sea fleet is going to get stuck in the Black Sea or at least be put in danger as it tries to go to the Mediterranean, where they go to support their troops in Syria.
If something were to happen to one of those Russian vessels passing through the Bosporus, which has those bridges across it in Istanbul, very narrow, potentially very, very dangerous. If something were to happen to a Russian naval vessel passing through there, this would be deeply troubling for Moscow. And we could see that this could put Moscow at arms with NATO-allied Turkey and, therefore, with the rest of -- the rest of NATO allies, the United States included.
From the international perspective, away from what's happening on the streets, which is escalating worryingly, there are -- there are deeper geopolitical worries that are going to grow out of this and grow immediately, Wolf, with the militarization of the situation, the militarization around the Bosporus, key for the Russian navy to get its Black Sea fleet, move it in and out of the Mediterranean, in and out of the Black Sea. Remember, they annexed a whole country to be able to use that Black Sea fleet. It is important to them, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Jim Sciutto, 24 hours ago we were reporting on the terror in Nice, France, that wound up killing 84 people and so many more injured. Now we're seeing a coup unfolding not that far away in Turkey, a key NATO ally.
Terrorism, a military coup, and a lot of people are wondering, is this going to be the new normal?
SCIUTTO: This is a major city in Europe. Istanbul is in Europe. The rest of Turkey, across the Bosporus, not. But Istanbul is in Europe, and we're seeing tremendous instability.
And it strikes me, Wolf, as we watch these pictures of people in the streets that they are, in effect, defying the military coup leaders. Because the coup leaders, some hour ago or so, announced on national television that they are imposing a curfew, declaring martial law and telling people to stay in their homes.
We're seeing in these pictures here that many thousands of people are denying that call and perhaps listening to the call, the appeal from President Erdogan, who called for his supporters to go out in the streets.
BLITZER: And they are out in the streets. A lot of people out in the streets.
Ivan Watson, who has lived in Turkey, spent a lot of time in Turkey. Ivan, if someone would have said to you just yesterday, the day before, "There's going to be a military coup in Turkey. Thousands of people will be on the streets. Armored vehicles will be there. Tanks will be there. Gunfire will be heard. Jets will be flying overhead," what would you have said?
WATSON: I believe that Erdogan, the president, had effectively tamed the military years ago when prosecutors threw hundreds of generals and admirals in prison for alleged coup plots and then was able to appoint commanders of the military that were perceived to be much more loyal to him.
So the military appears to have been, in the past, traditionally in Turkey, a very powerful and political force that have carried out four coups in 50 years. But in the last decade of Erdogan's rule, it was largely subservient to the elected executive, the elected -- when he was prime minister and now president.
There are big questions here, Wolfe. The military in Turkey, which has hundreds of thousands of troops and armed forces -- it's believed to one of the biggest in the NATO military alliance -- is comprised of conscript troops. So every Turkish male, when he reaches a certain age, if he's not going to university or find some other deferment, has to go and serve in the military.
And you'll see these parades, when people go do their service, is seen as very patriotic. They drive around town with their flags. So if a faction of the military is doing that, and the military is representative of the Turkish population, then clearly, not all of the soldiers in the military are going to support this against a president and a government that they presumably, 50 percent of them, have voted for.
So there are some real challenges here.
We've heard of gunshots being fired, not only on the first Bosporus bridge, which has been blocked, and we've seen those live pictures coming, which have been blocked by the military, we've also heard of gunfire in Istanbul central Taxon Square, presumably to disperse some pro-government demonstrators there. And I'm hearing from eyewitnesses about how police and soldiers have been facing off here.
[18;40:16] One of the big concerns here is the police have commanders, hundreds, thousands of them, that have been placed directly by Erdogan and his political party. And they are going to be seen to be much more loyal to the government, which effectively now, is in hiding. We don't know where any of the ministers are, where President Erdogan is, where the prime minister is. They're presumably not disclosing their location to protect themselves as this power struggle continues to unfold in the predawn hours in Turkey -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ivan, you've worked in Istanbul; you've lived there. Look at these pictures. Look at that -- look at that bus on that bridge there in Istanbul. Well, we've lost some of it, but it looks -- you know, give us a little personal reflection. You know that area well.
WATSON: That's right. I mean, there just recently, a third bridge was constructed over the Bosporus. This is a strategic body of water. It bisects Istanbul, Turkey's commercial capital, its culture capital, its largest city, cuts it in half.
And it's also, as Nic Robertson was pointing out, a key lifeline for moving oil tankers, as well as military vessels, from the Mediterranean Sea up to the Black Sea and back.
So that's very important. And that was one of the key pieces of infrastructure, the Bosporus bridge, both of the operating ones that was initially seized by the coup operators here, the military.
And what's clear here is that a segment of Turkish society has followed the appeals made by the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and by other Turkish officials, and they've come out to the streets, and they've challenged the military. They've challenged the military, the faction, at least, that is out in the streets, trying to impose this curfew.
So the curfew is not been adhered to, and it's setting up potential confrontations which looks like what we've seen on the Bosporus bridge there between the military and Erdogan supporters.
And what will be incredible is if the military, in fact, opens fire on any of these demonstrators. That would really take Turkey into uncharted waters right now.
And we don't know how much of the military is actually following along with this. Anecdotally, I've spoken with one career navy officer who doesn't know what the heck is going on in Turkey and doesn't even know who's behind the coup. And he says that he and his fellow officers are just watching this unfold on TV, as are so many millions of other Turks right now, trying to understand what kind of country they're going to wake up to on Saturday morning.
BLITZER: And Ivan, we've heard some concern being expressed that there could be actual clashes between elements of the military and elements of the national police force. Is that something that you consider to be realistic?
WATSON: It is definitely possible, because Erdogan has purged the police force in recent years and has been putting in commanders seen to be as loyalists. The police are the force that are used day after day to block and break down any public dissent in the streets, protests against Erdogan, for example. And we've seen that in past years, with liberal use of water cannons and tear gas and other nonlethal forms of force to basically stop people from protesting against Erdogan.
And now you have a military that's come out, or a faction of it at least, that is saying that it has overthrown the elected president, the elected government, as well, and that could potentially trigger confrontations in some places.
And from eyewitness accounts, you do have, in some squares, police on one side, military on the other, and clearly, confusion between these two armed and uniformed groups from the Turkish security forces.
So in addition to that, you have Erdogan, who commands real loyal followers. He has won, he has been by far, electorally, the most successful politician in the last 15 years in Turkey who has won election after election and shown to have had a loyal, loyal following of at least close to 50 percent of the population.
And when he issued his very strange call via Facetime being held up on a cell phone, on our sister network, CNN Turk, when he issued his appeal for people to come out into the streets, within minutes there were reports of crowds coming out at Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport and also in a main square in the capital, Ankara, and it appears on this first Bosporus bridge, where we've seen shots fired.
[18:45:05] And I also have from an eyewitness, accounts of shots fired. We don't flow by which security force at Istanbul Central Taksim Square within the last hour presumably to disperse some of the crowds of pro and anti-government supporters that have come out in the first hour of this power struggle -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Ivan, I want you to standby.
We are continuing to show our viewers these live pictures coming in from Istanbul, huge crowds that have gathered. It's now 1:45 a.m. Saturday morning in Turkey. A military coup is underway. The military says martial law has been imposed. The political leadership is resisting.
Stay with us. We're going to continue our breaking news coverage right after this.
[18:50:31] BLITZER: Following the breaking news out of Turkey. Take a look at these live pictures, crowds by the thousands. They've gathered on the streets.
There's a military coup under way right now. The military says martial law has been imposed. Joining us on the phone right now is the senior adviser to the Turkish President Erdogan, Mr. Cemal Hasimi.
Mr. Hasimi, thank you very much for joining us.
What is the latest information you can share with our viewers here in the United States and around the world?
CEMAL HASIMI, SENIOR ADVISER TO TURKISH PRESIDENT: Hello. Let me tell you one thing, what we know as a fact, the attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government has been organized by a group acting outside of the chain of command.
BLITZER: Yes. Go ahead.
HASIMI: Yes. The statement that have been made on behalf of the armed forces, we know as a fact it was not authorized by the military headquarters. So, as of now, we do have confirmed that the group who are trying to overthrow the democratically elected government is a faction in the army in an attempt to present an action. It is a faction in the army trying to overthrow the government.
And right now in Istanbul and Ankara, we do have some difficulty, but overall pro-democracy forces are getting control and we hope that in 24 hours we will be able to retake control of (INAUDIBLE). As of now in some places, there are some in the local consulate, but the fact in the fraction in the army has been unable to gain control. (CROSSTALK)
BLITZER: Mr. Hasimi, where is President Erdogan right now?
HASIMI: President Erdogan is in Istanbul and he went on air and asked people to stand in solidarity with the government and asked people to resist the military coup d'etat. Likewise, the prime minister and also the president and they made a call asking people, urging people to stand in solidarity against the military intelligence to stand with the democratically elected government.
BLITZER: Has the president of Turkey, Mr. Hasimi, lost control at least for now?
HASIMI: No. There is a group -- there is a group, a faction in the army trying to overthrow the government, but overall, have seen the statements made by army generals one by one tonight in the last half an hour, they have seen that. Majority of the army is standing with the democracy and they are supporting the democratically elected government.
So, it's a small faction in the army trying to overthrow the democratically elected government.
BLITZER: We are showing our viewers some pictures right now, Mr. Hasimi, let me interrupt for a moment. These are pictures from state television in Turkey. You see military personnel there now on the scene. They seem to be taking over state television in Turkey.
Is that your understanding?
HASIMI: Yes, the faction has managed to gain control of some places. TRT is one of them, the state channel is one of them and we have seen them and the president and prime minister and also other officials went on air on all other channels, (INAUDIBLE)
So, they've been unable to get the control of the media and they've been unable to get control of the private channels, with the exception of TRT, we don't have any difficulty.
BLITZER: Do you know, Mr. Hasimi -- whether or not -- Mr. Hasimi, do you know if there have been casualties and have people been injured and have people been killed in this coup?
HASIMI: Amongst the group who were trying to get the control of the military headquarters in Ankara, we've had some casualty, but we do not have concrete information as of now.
[18:55:12] But we know in Ankara, there have been some casualties among the military personnel who are trying to attack the legitimate headquarters.
BLITZER: So there have been casualties killed and wounded. Is that your understanding?
HASIMI: I do not have confirmed info as of now, but we are sure right now is that pro-democracy forces are getting control and hopefully in 24 hours, we will have full control.
BLITZER: Finally, Mr. Hasimi, you are a adviser to the Turkish president. What's your message --
HASIMI: To the prime minister, actually.
BLITZER: You are senior adviser to the prime minister. What's your message to the United States and other NATO allies who are watching this with extreme nervousness, extreme anxiety.
HASIMI: Democracy of Turkey, democracy in Turkey matters for the whole region, matters for global stability. Given the fact that the world is going through (INAUDIBLE) protecting Turkish democracy is the most crucial thing to protect regional and global stability.
We urge to world leaders and our allies that they stand in solidarity with Turkish people and Turkish democracy. That is the crucial message that could be given to a small group in the army and also the public that the military intervention and coup d'etat (INAUDIBLE) as Turkish people, as of now, I can see thousands of people marching toward the center of Ankara and I see some of the pictures in Istanbul on TV. People are resistant.
And given support to those people and given support to pro-democracy forces in Turkey, we urge the world leaders to stand in solidarity with them.
BLITZER: And finally, Mr. Hasimi, what's your -- there's a lot of concern that the President Erdogan, he ought to make a statement to the people of Turkey. He couldn't do it through a TV station and he had to do it via Facetime, on a mobile phone. That's pretty awkward.
What does that say to you?
HASIMI: Well, it's a matter of urgency, actually, it's a security issue. (INAUDIBLE)
It was a matter of urgency and we have the attack had begun at 10:00 p.m. and the prime minister, the president had to make a statement as soon as possible and it was the only thing available at that time.
But what we know for sure is that right now, luckily, the democratic forces are getting control and we have just a couple of minutes ago, actually, high-ranking generals have made a statement, one of the largest army in Turkey and have said that they will do everything to prevent this military -- this illegitimate military intervention, calling that attempt, calling that overthrow attempt as an action organized by what they called state within the state, is a (INAUDIBLE) state within Turkey, within Turkey. That's a statement by one of the generals.
BLITZER: Thank you very much, Cemal Hasimi, for joining us.
Finally, do you feel safe right now?
HASIMI: Do I feel what BLITZER: Do you feel safe? Are you worried about your own security?
HASIMI: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. We are safe and hopefully we will be able to -- we will be able to protect our democracy. We deserve that. The world deserves that, and we will do everything to prevent (INAUDIBLE) and the people who tried to organize that attempt will pay the price. They will pay the price.
BLITZER: Cemal Hasimi is the senior adviser to the Turkish prime minister. Cemal Hasimi, thank you very much. We'll stay in close touch with you.
HASIMI: Thank you. Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Soner, it sounds pretty worrisome. This is a very sense moment.
SONER CAGAPTAY, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: It is, indeed. It is a turning point. About an hour ago, Turkish President Erdogan called from his vacation spot for the people to come to the streets. They have listened to his call and it looks like the unfolding coup is being pushed back by the public. So what could have been a coup attempt against the Democratically-elected government is by the Turkish people.
BLITZER: Well, we'll see how this unfolds and this is approaching 2:00 a.m. right now in Istanbul, Turkey. You are looking at live pictures.
Our breaking news continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."