Turkish authorities have ordered the detention of 176 soldiers over suspected links to US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen’s network, which is blamed by Ankara for plotting a 2016 coup attempt.

In 2016, a group of officers attempted a coup to overthrow president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Some 250 people were killed in the failed attempt.

The country’s state media reports that people in 49 provinces were singled out in the operation. It also says that the warrants have been issued for a variety of reasons, after it had been found out the suspects contacted the movement members via payphone. Among those set to be arrested were six F-16 warplane pilots.

Erdogan’s government has been constantly criticised by rights groups for attempting to silence the opposition. The government, however, says the detentions were necessary and in line with the rule of law.

Since the coup, some 80,000 people have been arrested and around 150,000 others have been fired from state jobs in the crackdown. Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile in the US since 1999. He denies involvement in the coup attempt. However, operations against his network are regularly performed in Turkey.