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