A senior judge died yesterday after a lawyer opened fire in Turkey’s highest administrative court. He was apparently protesting against a ruling on the Muslim headscarf, which is barred from many places in the secular country.
The attacker chanted, “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) and Islamist slogans as he sprayed bullets across the courtroom, wounding five of the six people present before he was arrested by police guards.
It is thought that the attack in the centre of the capital, Ankara, was in protest at a decision not to promote a primary school headmistress who wore a Muslim headscarf on her way to work.
“He came in shouting, ‘I am the soldier of Allah’,” said Tansel Colasan, the court’s deputy chairwoman. “He said he decided to act because of the headscarf ruling.”
An investigation is under way into how Alparslan Arslan, 29, an Islamist lawyer, was able to smuggle the Glock automatic weapon past the X-ray machine at the entrance to the court building.
Those wounded in the Council of State’s second chamber included Mustafa Birden, its chairman. Another victim, Mustafa Ozbilgin, died in hospital from head wounds.
CNN-Turk TV reported that the gunman had been investigated for alleged links to the radical Turkish group Hezbollah. Police searching his car found newspaper cuttings bearing the judges’ pictures, the station added.
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 a court ruling to bar the promotion of the headmistress. The decision was in line with an extreme interpretation of Turkey’s strong secular rules, which outlaw the wearing of Islamic clothing — particularly the headscarf — in public places, including universities and Parliament.
The decision angered religious conservatives who have been repeatedly disappointed by the failure of the Government of the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former Islamist activist, to champion their cause.
In February the Islamist Vakit newspaper published a picture of some of yesterday’s victims under the headline: “Here are those [court] members.” The newspaper is under investigation for inciting attacks against the judges.
The attack has shocked the secularist Establishment. Mr Erdogan’s Government is now on the defensive as the country seeks to join the European Union.
“The existence of the secular republic is officially under threat,” Kemal Anadol, an opposition MP, shouted to the applause of members of his Republican’s People’s Party.
Mr Erdogan, whose most conservative supporters complain that he has sold out in favour of power and close EU ties, condemned the shooting. “Wherever it comes from, such an attack cannot be condoned,” he said. “I condemn it and it will be punished.”
Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the country’s President, said: “This will go down as a black mark in the history of our republic.”
The military, which sees itself as the guardian against any attempt to increase religious influence in the country, also condemned the attack.
About 99 per cent of Turks are Muslims. The country’s secular Establishment, however, which includes the courts and the military, has sought for decades to restrict Islamic influence, which some leaders view as an obstacle to Western-style modernisation.
Mr Erdogan’s wife, Emine, wears a headscarf, and his governing Justice and Development Party has made no secret of its desire to lift a ban on wearing them in government buildings and universities.
The wife of Abdullah Gul, the Foreign Minister, was barred from attending university for wearing one.