September 3, 2014

Key witness in missionary murders claims intimidation

A formerly secret witness in the case of the murders of three Bible publishers in Malatya in 2007 has submitted two letters to the court alleging that certain persons attempted to intimidate him into changing his testimony.

Gendarmerie officer İlker Çınar, who was originally a secret witness and is a key suspect in the case, submitted the letters to the Malatya 3rd High Criminal Court, stating that he has received threats in connection with his statement that a shadowy network working within the Turkish military was behind the killings.

The letters, dated Feb. 12 and March 10, conformed with the police conclusion that a secret network was behind the murders. Today's Zaman has recently obtained copies of these letters.

Turkey's General Staff had initially admitted the existence of an illegal group, the National Strategies and Operations Department of Turkey (TUSHAD), but then denied its existence.

However, in a previous hearing of the case, the General Staff admitted the existence of so-called black, white and orange forces attached to TUSHAD in a letter sent to the court. Çınar also stated that these TUSHAD forces were behind the killings. TUSHAD is allegedly part of the Ergenekon network, a clandestine gang charged with plotting to overthrow the government.

In addition, documents retrieved from General Staff hard disks showed that the General Staff both acknowledges the existence of TUSHAD and defines the organization as a “secret formation nested within the General Staff.”

TUSHAD is suspected of planning and carrying out the murders of three missionaries employed at the Zirve Publishing House in Malatya in 2007, as well as many other attacks targeting missionary individuals and groups.

Çınar had initially testified as a secret witness, but when his identity was exposed during the trial, he agreed to use his real name. He is now testifying by videoconference, though his face is blurred out.

Çınar also claimed that suspect Mehmet Ülger, the former commander of the Malatya Provincial Gendarmerie Command and a suspect in the trial, had prepared fabricated reports in 2008 to put the blame on the Hizmet movement, which is inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

He also said Ülger had forced him to give false testimony against journalist Adem Yavuz Aslan, who works at a newspaper close to the Hizmet movement.

During the investigation into the murders, police found a large number of documents demonstrating that the murders were planned at length, from a computer seized in 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, recordings of their phone conversations and a chart that details the organizational structure of Christian missionaries in Malatya.

On April 18, 2007, missionaries Necati Aydın (35) and Uğur Yüksel, as well as German national Tilmann Ekkehart Geske (46), were tied to chairs, stabbed and tortured at the Zirve Publishing House in the southeastern Anatolian city of Malatya, before their throats were cut. The publishing house they worked for printed Bibles and Christian literature. Suspects Abuzer Yıldırım, Cuma Özdemir, Salih Gürler and Hamit Çeker were apprehended at the scene and immediately taken into custody, while another suspect, Emre Günaydın, jumped from a third-story window in an attempt to escape from police and was taken into custody after being treated for injuries. Nine men have been charged in connection with the murders.

The murders are believed to be part of a wider plot targeting missionaries devised either by Ergenekon or a related organization. Evidence that emerged in the trials into the 2007 murder of journalist Hrant Dink, the 2006 killing of Father Andrea Santoro, an Italian pastor, in Trabzon and other attacks on non-Muslims shows that they are likely to have been part of the same master plan. Prosecutors and lawyers involved in these trials have found evidence linking the events to each other.

The neo-nationalist Aydınlık daily, a publication belonging to the Workers Party (İP), whose leader has been convicted of being an Ergenekon member, recently rehashed old claims that the Hizmet movement was behind the murders. The daily targeted investigative reporter Aslan for exposing the illegal gang behind the murders.

In a smear campaign against the Hizmet movement, the pro-government media have also started publishing similarly baseless claims, targeting key witness Çınar despite their earlier reports that a shadowy network affiliated with Ergenekon was behind the Malatya murders. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reportedly formed an alliance with Ergenekon in effort to save himself from a corruption scandal that had implicated him and some of his family members.

Published on Today's Zaman, 02 September 2014, Tuesday