Malatya, Turkey: Zirve killers planned Bible publisher murders well in advance


Date:              January 27, 2013


Relatives of the Zirve massacre victims walk to Malatya 3rd High Criminal Court to attend the 55th hearing of the trial in early January. (Photo: İHA, Burhan Karaduman)
27 January 2013 /TODAY'S ZAMAN, İSTANBUL

The brutal massacre of three Christian missionaries who operated the Zirve Publishing House in the city of Malatya in 2007 was planned well ahead of time and in a highly calculated manner, documents found on a computer belonging to a suspect in the killings have revealed.

Police have found a large number of documents that serve as evidence of how the murders were premeditated over a long period of time on a computer seized from the house of gendarmerie intelligence officer Maj. Haydar Yeşil -- one of the suspects in the Zirve trial. The hard drive of the computer includes video footage of the victims, phone conversation recordings belonging to them and a chart that details the organizational structure of Christian missionaries in Malatya.

Victims Necati Aydın and Tilman Geske, a German citizen, had been tagged by the criminal network months prior to the murder, the documents on the computer show. In addition to Geske and Aydın, there is detailed information, complete with pictures and video recordings, of US citizen Ronal Lolgal and Zirve publishing employee Hüseyin Yelki. These individuals were shown on a document supposedly revealing a “missionary organization chart,” created inside the gendarmerie. Some of the photographs found on the hard disk are from Geske's funeral. The killers also had a list of missionaries residing in Turkey with personal information such as their passport numbers and detailed information about their families and residential addresses. Police have established that the documents were created by different members of the Gendarmerie Command in Malatya.

The documents confirm the assertion of co-plaintiff lawyers in the trial that began four years ago that the gendarmerie was actively involved in the killings. The murders are believed to be part of a general plot targeting missionaries, devised either by Ergenekon -- a clandestine gang charged with plotting to overthrow the government -- or a related organization. Evidence that came out in the trials regarding the 2007 murder of journalist Hrant Dink, the 2006 killing of Father Santoro, an Italian pastor, in Trabzon and other attacks on non-Muslims shows that they are also likely to have come from the same master plan. Prosecutors and lawyers in these trials have found evidence linking these events to each other.

Another police finding was that there was a briefing on the slain missionaries at the Malatya Provincial Gendarmerie Command where a slide presentation was used. During the briefing at the gendarmerie command, detailed information and intelligence work conducted in the city on the missionaries was also given to the gendarmerie officials.

Prosecutors believe that the campaign against missionaries in Malatya and other parts of Turkey was launched by a clandestine and illegal unit called the National Strategies and Operations Department of Turkey (TUSHAD), allegedly established in 1993 by former four-star Gen. Hurşit Tolon, who is one of the key suspects in the Ergenekon trial. Last week, the Malatya court hearing the Zirve trial ordered Tolon's arrest based on the evidence found on the computer at Yeşil's office.

Last week, the prosecution heard new testimony from İlker Çınar -- who is both a witness and a suspect in the Zirve trial. Çınar, also a gendarmerie officer, claimed that TUSHAD had blacklisted Turgut Özal, Turkey's eighth president whose 1993 death is now the subject of a new investigation under the suspicion that it might have been caused by poisoning, although initially it was recorded as a case of heart failure. Çınar also claimed that Gen. Tolon continued to “serve” at his TUSHAD post after retiring from the military.

The hard disk found at Yeşil's house was given to the police by his brother-in-law, H.K., who found it accidentally while moving. Yeşil was the department head of the Malatya Provincial Gendarmerie Command's Intelligence Department. The Malatya 3rd High Criminal Court last week issued arrest warrants for Tolon, gendarmerie officer Adem Gedik, Yelki and Levent Ercan Gelegen, based on the information found on the computer.

It is not clear why Ergenekon or any other shady group inside the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) targeted Christian missionaries, but many coup plots that have been unearthed during the Ergenekon investigation and related trials now indicate that some groups inside these networks might have perceived missionaries as a threat. However, there is at least one plot -- called the Cage Plan -- that actively focused on assassinating non-Muslim public figures, who were not necessarily working as missionaries, which some experts say might be an attempt to make the religious-minded Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government look bad in the international arena. Causing chaos and disturbance through atrocities has been a preferred method for secret anti-government groups in state agencies to manipulate both public opinion and also policymakers, past attacks in Turkey's near history and, more recently, mountain-loads of evidence that emerged during the various coup attempt, trials have shown.

Observers have also recently suggested that extensions of Ergenekon and related structures are possibly still operative and currently very active. Recent attacks on elderly Armenians in İstanbul's Samatya neighborhood, threats directed at a protestant church in İzmir and the stoning of a Greek Orthodox church as of late might be the work of these same groups, many commentators note. Some also accuse the government of being negligent of the planned but foiled attacks against non-Muslims, and particularly missionaries, and therefore not actively encouraging prosecutors to investigate such crimes and bringing those behind them to justice.


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