Turkey has issued an arrest warrant for its former international football star striker Hakan Sukur as it probes last month's failed coup aimed at unseating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, state media said on Friday. Prosecutors in Sakarya province east of Istanbul accuse Sukur of being a member of the organisation of the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen whom Ankara claims was behind the coup.
His arrest is sought on charges of "membership of an armed terror group", the state-run Anadolu agency said, referring to what Ankara calls the Fethullah Terror Organisation (FETO). Gulen denies such a group exists and accusations that he masterminded the coup. A warrant on identical charges has also been issued for his father, Selmet Sukur, the agency said.
Neither man had been found at their residences in Istanbul and Sakarya residences, the report said, adding that Sukur and his family had left Turkey last year. Both properties were searched by Sakarya police, Dogan news agency said.
The former striker is currently believed to be in the United States, and Turkish media said an Interpol Red Notice would be requested for extradition. Sukur was one of the stars of Turkey's third-place performance in the 2002 World Cup, and a household name in the football-mad country.
With a football career stretching from 1987 to 2007, Sukur was by far the most prolific goalscorer in the history of the Turkish national side, finding the net 51 times in 112 appearances.
He was a stalwart player for Istanbul side Galatasaray but also had stints abroad for Inter Milan, Parma and Blackburn Rovers. His goal after just 11 seconds of play against South Korea in 2002 remains the fastest goal in World Cup history.
After football, Sukur went into politics and was elected an MP with Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2011. But he resigned in 2013 after a vast corruption probe that targeted Erdogan and his inner circle, siding with the movement of Erdogan's arch-foe Gulen.
Sukur had voiced objections to the government move to shut down schools run by Gulen's movement Hizmet, which means service in Turkish. He had gone on trial in absentia in June on charges of insulting Erdogan on social media.
He is not the only Turkish sports star caught up in the controversy after the coup bid.
The family of Enes Kanter, one of the most prominent Turkish basketball players in the NBA, disowned him after he openly supported Gulen after the coup. Kanter, 24, a centre for the NBA outfit Oklahoma City Thunder, responded by saying he would sacrifice himself a thousand times for Gulen.