Witnesses indicate ringleader wasn’t only one planning to kill three Christians.
MALATYA, Turkey, September 15 (Compass Direct News) – Testimony in the murder case of three Christians here indicates the attack was premeditated for at least two suspects, despite the defense team’s insistence that the killers acted spontaneously.
The 11th hearing on the murders at a publishing house in this southeastern city 17 months ago took place Friday (Sept. 12) at the Malatya Third Criminal Court. Two Turkish Christians who converted from Islam, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, and a German, Tilmann Geske, were brutally tortured and killed on April 18, 2007.
Mahmut Kudas, one of the three witnesses called to testify, said murder suspect Cuma Ozdemir met with him the week before the murder and said that he was going to tell him something important.
“If you don’t hear from me by Friday, someone will call you and tell you the location of a letter. Get the letter and give it to the person who called you,” Ozdemir said to Kudas on April 13, 2007, the Friday before the attack on the following Wednesday, according to his testimony.
When Kudas asked him why, Ozdemir replied, “There are 49 house churches and priests in Malatya.” When Kudas asked him what he was thinking of doing, he replied, “Those who know this will die. I will become a martyr.”
Kudas, 20, lived in the same dormitory as many of the other suspects. When he asked Ozdemir if Emre Gunaydin, the suspected ringleader of the murders, was the leader of this operation, Cuma Ozdemir nodded in confirmation.
The five accused murderers are Hamit Ceker, Cuma Ozdemir, Abuzer Yildirim, Salih Gurler and Emre Gunaydin. They were all between the ages of 19 and 21 at the time of the murders.
Another witness, Mehmet Uludag, a former classmate of some of the suspects, said he also spoke with Ozdemir before the murders. Uludag said Ozdemir told him that he and two others were about to do something big.
Ozdemir then instructed Uludag, 20, that he would leave a letter at an undisclosed location and that he must call Muammer Ozdemir – who is expected to testify at a future hearing – to learn the whereabouts of the letter. The two must then deliver the letter to the police or the gendarme, Cuma Ozdemir told Uludag.
“If I come through, I will explain all this to you. If I am lost, then read the letter. It will explain everything,” he reportedly told Uludag.
On the day of the murders, Uludag sent Muammer Ozdemir a text message asking for the whereabouts of the letter. The latter told him it was under a bed in the dormitory, but Uludag did not retrieve it since he was questioned by the police the same day.
The letters in question are similar to those mentioned by suspect Hamit Ceker in a previous hearing. He said in his interrogation that the night before the murder, he and another of the defendants had sat in the hall of their dormitory, writing a letter to their families in case things did not turn out well.
Both Kudas and Uludag said they did not report this suspicious behavior, as they believed Cuma Ozdemir was exaggerating rather than engaged in a conspiracy.
In forthcoming hearings the plaintiff attorneys will try to accuse these witnesses of aiding and abetting the murderers, said Orhan Kemal Cengiz, leading the team of plaintiff lawyers.
“They knew what was going to happen, so they should have talked to prosecutors or police officers,” Cengiz told Compass, criticizing the witnesses for withholding information.
The third person to testify in the trial was Gunaydin’s former girlfriend, Turna Isikli, 21. She said the day before the murder Gunaydin sent her a text message and said, “Tomorrow I will be interrogated.” She said she thought this referred to a meeting with his father about issues related to school.
Accusations, Tempers Flare
The testimonies indicate that at least two of the suspects planned the murder of the three Christians, contradicting their earlier statements that they came to the publishing house with no intent to kill the evangelicals.
In a Jan. 14 hearing, accused killer Hamit Ceker claimed the group of five men only planned to seize incriminating evidence against the Christians, although they carried guns, rope, knives and a pair of plastic gloves.
In a subsequent hearing on June 10, the five men declared their innocence and blamed one or more of the others. Most of the blame fell on suspected ringleader Gunaydin, whom the suspects claimed murdered the three Christians. The other four suspects said they only obeyed him for fear of his alleged police and mafia connections.
Gunaydin has claimed that all five planned to raid the office together. In a May 12 hearing he implicated suspect Salih Gurler for leading the attacks, saying violence exploded when Aydin slandered Islam and said Jesus was God.
Tensions flared at one point in Friday’s hearing when Gunaydin noticed one of the plaintiff attorneys drinking from a water bottle. Pious Muslims are currently observing the month of Ramadan in which eating and drinking are prohibited from sunrise to sunset.
“This is the month of Ramadan and we are fasting, but you are drinking water across from us,” Gunaydin said. “Show a little respect.”
“What shall we do, make them fast?” responded judge Eray Gurtekin, according to Sabah national daily.
Gunaydin also raised eyebrows when he stood up and lashed out at plaintiff attorney Ozkan Yucel when his cellular phone rang in the courtroom. He said, “Turn off your phone, you are disturbing my concentration.”
The case took an important twist in the 10th hearing on Aug. 21, when prosecuting attorneys suggested that shadowy elements deep within the Turkish state orchestrated the murder.
In the last hearing plaintiff attorneys requested the case be integrated with an investigation into Ergenekon, an ultranationalist cabal of retired generals, politicians, journalists and mafia members under investigation for conspiracy in various murders.
In January police uncovered and started arresting members of Ergenekon. A criminal investigation has linked these members to high-profile attacks, murders and plans to engineer domestic chaos and ultimately overthrow the government.
Ergenekon was not mentioned at Friday’s hearing because the plaintiff lawyers have not received the investigation file from Istanbul. They requested the file at the Aug. 21 hearing in Malatya.
The far-reaching conspiracy and its connection to the Malatya case, however, has had a positive impact on the criminal proceedings, plaintiff lawyers say: The judges are far more cooperative than the beginning of the case, in which they frequently rebuffed demands from the prosecution for evidence and witnesses.
“This last hearing was the first time the court accepted nearly all demands from us,” said plaintiff attorney Cengiz. “They are taking the case much more seriously now because there are many indications this is not the work of five youngsters but of dark forces behind the scenes.”
The recent hearing comes amid complaints from Turkey’s tiny Protestant community that it is being targeted for violence.
On Sept. 5 the Turkish Alliance of Protestant Churches filed a complaint to the Prime Ministry’s Human Rights Directorate that security forces were not offering them adequate protection in the face of increasing attacks, according to Sabah.
Turkish police responded to the complaints and released information on recent attacks against Christians. They said a majority of attackers were not arrested, and those that were detained merely paid a fine and were later released.
Susanne Geske, wife of the martyred Tilmann Geske, filed a lawsuit against the Turkish Ministry of Internal Affairs on Wednesday (Sept. 10) for not taking preventative measures against the murders. The lawsuit calls for 630,000 Turkish lira (US$507,000) for physical and immaterial compensation.
Geske’s lawyer, Ibrahim Kali, told NTV, “It is the basic duty of a government to protect the rights of life and freedom of religion and conscience. But the government did not protect the liberties of religion and conscience of those close to my client.”
The next hearing in the Malatya murder case is scheduled for Oct. 16.
Report from Compass Direct News