Turkish woman held over murder of Christians

ANKARA: Police have detained the girlfriend of one of the suspected assailants of three Protestants slain in eastern Turkey, bringing the number of people in custody to 12, officials said yesterday.

She is the girlfriend of a suspect who remains in critical condition after jumping from the third-storey office of a Christian publishing house in Malatya, where two Turks and a German were killed on Wednesday, Governor Halil Ibrahim Dasoz said in televised remarks.

Another suspect, detained in Istanbul on Friday, was brought to Malatya for questioning, he said.

The three victims, who belonged to the tiny Protestant community in Malatya, were killed by knife-wielding assailants who tied the men to chairs and tortured them before cutting their throats.

According to media reports, the killers are believed to be members of a cell of nationalist-Islamist fanatics similar to one in the northern city of Trabzon blamed for the January murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.

Before killing the victims, the assailants reportedly tortured them for three hours as they interrogated them on their missionary activities.

The Zirve publishing house distributed bibles and published Christian literature.

Proselytising is not banned in Muslim, secular Turkey, but is generally viewed with suspicion.

The murders were the latest attack on non-Muslim minorities in the country following Dink’s killing and the shooting of Italian Roman Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in Trabzon in February 2006.

They were strongly condemned by the international community.

Germany, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union which Turkey is seeking to join, has urged Ankara to take measures to protect religious freedom.

Four of the suspects were captured at the crime scene when police raided the publishing house office, alerted by a member of the local Protestant community who grew suspicious when he found the office door locked.

A fifth suspect, 19-year-old Emre Gunaydin, who was allegedly the leader of the gang, jumped from the window in an apparent bid to escape arrest.

Officials have not revealed the details of the remaining suspects, who were detained the following day, saying only that everyone in custody is aged 19 and 20.

Prosecutors are looking into whether there was an illegal organisation or a mastermind behind the attack.

Gunaydin had reportedly made several visits beforehand to the publishing house to gain the confidence of the people working there, newspapers said.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday April 22, 2007.
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