By Ayla Jean Yackley
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A tank rolls through five lanes of deadlocked traffic towards the Bosphorus Bridge, crushing cars. A military helicopter shoots at people dashing across a highway. Mutinous soldiers open fire on civilians outside an air base.
The brutality of Turkey's failed coup attempt, when soldiers commandeered fighter jets, military helicopters and tanks in a bid to seize power, has gradually been emerging in video and pictures captured on cellphones during the chaos.
Throughout the night of July 15, terrified Turks in Istanbul and Ankara listened to sporadic gunfire, explosions and the sonic booms of low-flying jets over their apartment blocks, rattling buildings and blowing out windows.
In a country whose last violent military coup was more than three decades ago, few could believe what was happening, let alone how high the death toll would reach. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said 232 people were killed, 145 of them civilians.
Blurred photos and shaky videos posted on Twitter and YouTube, increasingly circulated in the days after the attempted coup, hint at how so many died so quickly.
"Go back, go back," shout two men, trying to warn protesters before a volley of shots rings out as rebel soldiers open fire outside the Akinci air base north of the capital Ankara, believed to have served as a hub for the coup plotters.
The footage, later circulated on Twitter, was initially shared with Reuters by an official in the local mayor's office who said civilians rushed to the base after seeing parliament under attack and realizing a coup attempt was underway.
One of the deadliest places for civilians was near President Tayyip Erdogan's presidential palace in Ankara, where hundreds of supporters heeded his call to fill the streets and squares.
In one YouTube clip, a helicopter gunship fires on people dashing desperately across a highway near the palace. The video captures a laser sight dancing just in front of the person filming.
TANK CRUSHES PROTESTERS
Government officials have also been sharing the phone footage, citing it as evidence of the brutality of a coup bid they blame on Erdogan's arch-rival Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric they accuse of trying to establish a "parallel state" with his followers in the judiciary and security forces.
"When Fethullah Gulen said, 'May fire rain down', it turns out he was talking about Cobra helicopters firing on civilians!" tweeted a user under the handle @BorsaStrateji.
Gulen has denied involvement in the plot and suggested it may have been staged in order to justify a crackdown by Erdogan on members of his religious movement, who define themselves as conservative Muslims who believe in the importance of education and charity. They deny charges of acting against the state.
A Twitter account that opened within hours of the bungled intervention, called Failed Coup Facts, posted a security video that depicts a helicopter gunship strafing a road with electric-blue cannon fire near the headquarters of the national intelligence agency, narrowly missing moving cars.
Agents fruitlessly shoot back with rifles and handguns.
The account posted another video showing a tank in Ankara running over protesters who were initially trying to block its path but then attempted to escape to the side of the road. At least three people are killed in the footage, including one man who is eviscerated.
Other users posted footage of a tank rushing towards the entry of the Bosphorus Bridge that connects Istanbul's European and Asian districts and was seized during the coup attempt. It crushes at least two cars and knocks more out of the way.
Rebel soldiers on the bridge open fire when protesters gather, including those trying to help the wounded, a separate YouTube clip shows. In another video, which a Turkish official shared with reporters, soldiers shoot a man approaching them with raised arms.
Acts of retribution against soldiers involved in the coup plot who surrendered or were captured have also circulated on social media. Some showed protesters whipping detainees in military uniforms rounded up on the bridge.
But one video retweeted thousands of times showed an act of kindness. A pro-government police officer pushes away men who appear determined to lynch a soldier trapped in his tank.
The officer pulls him out, sees his tears and embraces him.
(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Pravin Char)