Terrorists in Turkey slit throats of Christian Bible publishers "let this be a lesson to the enemies of our religion"
April 19, 2007
April 19, 2007
Christians at Bible publishers have their throats cut
Knife-wielding attackers slit the throats of three people at a Christian publishing house in conservative eastern Turkey yesterday.
One of the dead men was of German origin, the local governor said. Two other men were taken to hospital, one with knife wounds to his throat, back and stomach, the other with a head injury after jumping from a third-floor window to escape. The hospital in the town of Malatya said that both were in a critical condition.
Police have detained four men for the attack, which took place in the early afternoon. Television footage showed a policeman tackling one man while another man covered in blood was carried to an ambulance on a stretcher.
The killings came less than three months after the murder of a prominent Armenian journalist.
The Zirve publishing house, which the Turkish media says is owned by two South Africans, Gert Martinus de Lange and Stephen Smithdorf, had been the target of nationalist protests for allegedly distributing Bibles and proselytising.
Halil Ibrahim Dasoz, the Governor of Malatya, said the authorities were also investigating possible Islamist links, because the method of killing was reminiscent of attacks by the Turkish arm of the militant Islamist group Hezbollah.
Officials from Zirve say they had been the target of threats for some time and had been intending to ask for protection. They deny any missionary aims.
Martin de Langue, a former official, reportedly said two years ago that the public in Malatya was being provoked against Christians and foreigners. The small community of Turkish Protestant Christians, as opposed to Greek and Armenian minorities, comprises eager converts with a missionary bent. Although proselytising is not illegal in mainly Muslim Turkey it is regarded with hostility.
The attack came as two Turkish evangelical Christians in Istanbul attended a hearing of their trial under the notorious article 301 of the penal code, which the West condemns as a restriction on expression, after being accused by nationalists of insulting Turkey and Islam.
The European Commission has condemned the attack as "horrendous". The EC has long called on Turkey to offer better protection and rights for its minorities.
The attack comes at a time of great tension in Turkey over secularist worries that the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former Islamist firebrand who now says he is a conservative democrat, will announce he is running for President in next month's elections. This would cement the grip of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) on the top jobs in the land. Hundreds of thousands of secularists marched at the weekend to prevent what they believe would result in an assault on the secular nature of the state.
The AKP MP for Malatya said the attack in his constituency could have been an act of provocation aimed at creating greater turmoil.
"There are people within Turkey who want extraordinary tension to reign in the country," the MP. Munir Erkal, said.
Threat to faith
There are 100,000 Christians in Turkey. Last year two employees of a Bible correspondence course were charged with insulting Turkishness". It was alleged they were bribing Muslims to convert, promoting promiscuity and denigrating the Turkish army. Odemis Protestant Church in Izmir was attacked with Molotov cocktails in November.
Source: Turkish News, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Asia News
Turkish police detain 5 more people in deadly attack on Christian publishing house
Malatya, April. 19(AP): Police detained five more people on Thursday in connection with an attack on a Christian publishing house that killed three employees, doubling the number of suspects in custody, a Turkish official said.
One group of suspects detained in the slayings on Wednesday at the Zirve publishing house that distributes Bibles told investigators they carried out the killings to protect Islam, a Turkish newspaper reported.
The three victims _ a German and two Turkish citizens _ were found with their hands and legs bound and their throats slit. The victims had bruises on their faces and cuts on their wrists from where they had been tied up, but there was no sign that they had been tortured, a morgue official said.
The attack added to concerns in Europe about whether this predominantly Muslim country _ which is bidding for European Union membership _ can protect its religious minorities. It also underlined concerns about rising Turkish nationalism and hostility toward non-Muslims.
"We didn't do this for ourselves, but for our religion," Hurriyet newspaper quoted an unnamed suspect as saying. "Our religion is being destroyed. Let this be a lesson to enemies of our religion."
Local media said the suspects, all students, were staying at a hostel of an Islamic foundation.
On Wednesday, police detained four youths, aged 19-20, as well as a fifth who underwent surgery for head injuries after he apparently tried to escape by jumping from a window in the central city of Malatya. Five other suspects, detained on Thursday, were of the same age as those taking into custody on the day of the attack, Gov. Halil Ibrahim Dasoz said. It was not clear if they had been at the scene of the attack.
The five suspects detained Wednesday had each been carrying copies of a letter that read: "We five are brothers. We are going to our deaths. We may not return," the state-run Anatolia news agency said.
"Nothing can excuse such an attack that comes at a time of great need for peace, brotherhood and tolerance," outgoing President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the attack as "savagery."
Presidential elections will be held next month, a contest that highlights fears among Turkey's secular establishment that a candidate from Erdogan's Islamic-rooted party, or even Erdogan himself, could win the job and strengthen Islamic influence on the government. Last weekend, hundreds of thousands of pro-secular protesters demonstrated in the capital, Ankara. Erdogan has rejected the label of "Islamist," citing his commitment to the EU bid.
A large Turkish flag hung from one of the windows of the four-story students' residence where five of the suspects lived. The curtains were drawn and the door was locked. A man came out of the building and told journalists to go away, saying the students were stressed and needed to study.
The German and one of the Turkish victims were found dead, and the third victim died in a hospital. The German man, identified as 46-year-old Tilman Ekkehart Geske, had been living in Malatya since 2003. His family wanted to bury him in Malatya.
It was the latest in a string of attacks on Turkey's Christian community _ which comprises less than 1 percent of the 70-million population.
In February 2006, a Turkish teenager shot a Catholic priest dead as he prayed in his church, and two other Catholic priests were attacked later that year. A November visit by Pope Benedict XVI was greeted by several peaceful protests. Earlier this year, a suspected nationalist killed Armenian Christian editor Hrant Dink.
Authorities had vowed to deal with extremist attacks after Dink's murder, but Wednesday's assault showed the violence was not slowing down.
"The killing is a result of provocations in Turkey against minorities," said Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a lawyer for one of the victims, Necati Aydin. Cengiz said he defended Aydin seven years ago, when he was arrested for selling Bibles and accused of insulting Islam. Aydin spent a month in police custody and took his case to the European Court of Human Rights.
The Vatican's envoy to Turkey, Monsignor Antonio Lucibello, told Italian daily Il Messaggero that he thought the attack was a "sporadic event."
"We will keep up our work the way we always have, with confidence in the authorities and in the society. We are not afraid, I'm not afraid," he said.
Italian Premier Romano Prodi, speaking from South Korea during a state visit, told the ANSA news agency that while the attack "certainly does not help" Turkey's EU bid, "tragedies like this should not influence" the decision as there are "political guidelines that are looking at long-term prospects."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat Party _ which opposes Turkey's bid to join the EU _ said the attacks showed the country's shortcomings in protecting religious freedoms.
Turkey which opened EU membership negotiations in 2005 is under intense pressure to improve human rights and to expand religious freedoms and free speech.
Three murdered at Turkish bible publishing house
Nick Birch in Istanbul
Security officials found the men with their hands and feet tied to chairs and their throats cut in the office of Zirve Publishing, in the south-eastern city of Malatya.
A fourth man was being treated for severe head injuries after he jumped from a third-floor balcony to escape, while another sustained stab wounds.
Officials said that four men had been taken into custody. Turkish media reported that the police arrested the attackers before they left the publisher's office, acting on a tip-off from victims' families who had been unable to reach the men by phone for days.
Ahmet Guvener, the pastor of a Protestant church in the nearby city of Diyarbakir and a friend of the victims, said he had talked to the men on Tuesday night. "They were at peace with the world. This news came as a total shock," he said.
Zirve's director, Hamza Ozant, who opened the Malatya office last year, said the men had been on the verge of asking for police protection, following threats which they had experienced.
The attack comes two months after a nationalist gunman killed the journalist Hrant Dink in a street in Istanbul. The 52-year-old was a native of Malatya, and a Turkish-Armenian. He had been editor-in-chief of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos.
Malatya, the home town of Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot and wounded Pope John Paul II in 1981, is known as a nationalist city. Nationalists had protested outside the Zirve building following local news reports accusing them of proselytism.
In 2005 molotov cocktails thrown at the International Protestant church in Ankara caused £5,000 damage. And last year an American missionary in the south-eastern city of Gaziantep was bound and gagged by two assailants claiming to be members of al-Qaida. Although they did not kill him, the attackers promised to come back and finish him off unless he and his family left Turkey immediately.