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Islamist shoots five Turkish judges to protest headscarf ban

May 17, 2006

Islamist shoots five Turkish judges in headscarf protest

From Suna Erdem in Istanbul for Times Online

The wife of the Turkish Prime Minister wears a headscarf, despite a law banning ministers' spouses from functions if they do (Kerim Okten/EPA)

A senior judge was shot dead in Turkey's highest administrative court today in an apparent protest at a ruling against the Muslim headscarf, which is barred from many places in this secular country.

The gunmen chanted "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) as he sprayed bullets across the courtroom before police guards had time to react.

The gunman broke into a meeting of the Council of State's second chamber and opened fire, wounding five of the six people present, including Mustafa Birden, the chamber's chairman. One of them, Mustafa Ozbilgin, later died in hospital after sustaining serious head injuries. The gunman was arrested after the attack.

Court officials said that Mr Arslan had entered the building in the centre of the capital, Ankara, the day before and forced the door of Mr Birden's office, only to be chased away by security staff.

The court's second chamber deals with educational issues, which are often grounds for conflict between Turkey's Islamists and hardline secularists.

Mr Birden had signed an earlier court decision to bar the promotion to headmistress of a primary school teacher who wore a headscarf on the way to work, backing an extreme interpretation of Turkey's strongly secular laws outlawing the wearing of Islamic clothing, particularly the headscarf, in many public places including universities and parliament.

The decision angered religious conservatives who have been repeatedly disappointed by the failure of Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister, himself a former Islamist activist, and his Government to counter the incumbent pro-Western state elite and champion any of their causes.

In February the Islamist Vakit newspaper published a picture of some of today's victims, under the headline "Here are THOSE members." The newspaper is currently under investigation for inciting attacks against the judges.

The attack has shocked the secularist elite, already upset at a series of recent attacks by Islamists on the offices of the statist, left-wing Republic newspaper, and put Mr Erdogan's government on the defensive as its opponents take the opportunity to decry their conservative influence on a country seeking to join the European Union.

Mr Erdogan, whose most conservative supporters complain that he has sold out in favour of power and close EU ties, strongly condemned the shooting. But his party and supporters were the target of barbs for daring to question the rightness of such hardline secularism in Turkey, where the majority of the population are Muslims.

Tansel Colasan, the court's deputy head, said: "This is not just an attack on the Council of State. It is not enough to damn them. Those who upset the social consensus are guilty. They know who they are."

President Ahmet Necdet Sezer of Turkey said: "This will go down as a black mark in the history of our republic."

Mr Sezer has repeatedly clashed with the Government over what he sees as their attempts to bring in anti-secularist legislation and refused to invite Mr Erdogan's headscarf-wearing wife to any of his official parties. The military, seen as a guardian against any attempt to increase religious influence in the country, also condemned the attack, which it described as "vile."

"Wherever it comes from such an attack cannot be condoned," Mr Erdogan insisted. "I condemn it and it will be punished. It is wrong to try and put a spin on events."

This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at