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Suspects All Deny Killing In Malatya Murders
Accused ringleader blames other culprits; letter reveals alleged masterminds.

5/14/08 ISTANBUL, Turkey (Compass Direct News) – All five culprits arrested last spring for the savage murder of three Christians in eastern Turkey have proclaimed their innocence, declaring they did not personally kill any of the victims.

In their court testimonies completed Monday (May 12) at the sixth hearing before Malatya’s Third Criminal Court, the five young Turkish men have defended themselves by blaming each other for the killings.

All have insisted that they had not planned to murder anyone and that no individuals or group instigated their raid on the Zirve Publishing Co. office in Malatya on April 18, 2007. (See sidebar below on letter implicating alleged masterminds of the murders.)

Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske were tied up, stabbed and tortured for several hours before their throats were slit. The five suspects were all caught by police at the crime scene.

“Our purpose was just to gather information and give it to the press,” alleged ringleader Emre Gunaydin said in a nine-page handwritten statement he read to the court on Monday.

He claimed they took along knives “only to protect ourselves,” insisting, “If we had wanted to kill them, we would have brought a real gun along with us.” The suspects had three guns, each equipped only to shoot blanks.

“I didn’t kill anyone. I just hit them,” Gunaydin said. “And I didn’t order anyone to kill them.”

But according to the other four suspects – Hamit Ceker, Cuma Ozdemir, Abuzer Yildirim and Salih Gurler – it was Gunaydin who planned the whole attack, without telling them he had any intentions to kill the victims.

In separate court testimonies over the past four months, the four either blamed Gunaydin directly for all three murders or claimed they did not see who had killed certain of the victims.

But as the final suspect to testify, Gunaydin fingered Salih Gurler for leading the violence, saying he saw him stab Yuksel.

“I remember very clearly Salih slanting his knife, stabbing and twisting it into Ugur’s back,” Gunaydin claimed.

He also said Yildirim hit Aydin so hard he blacked out, and that then Gurler tried unsuccessfully to choke the 35-year-old pastor with a rope around his neck.

At that point Gunaydin claimed he became sick to his stomach and went and washed his face in the sink. When he came back, he said, Gurler and Ozdemir were standing at Geske’s head.

“Salih was hitting him, and I suppose slashed him some,” Gunaydin said.

Gunaydin repeated previous claims that the violence exploded when Aydin angered them all by slandering Islam and its prophet Muhammad, and by insisting that Jesus was God.

But he pointedly denied a number of claims made against him by his fellow suspects, including his alleged boasts of the powerful mafia links of his older brother and uncles with known criminals like Sedat Peker.

“I am not a member of the Ulku Ocaklari (Ideal Hearth),” he said, referring to an ultranationalist youth group linked with the Nationalist Movement Party.

Initial Statements Rejected

Gunaydin also rejected an admission in his initial police statement that after the Malatya raid, he planned to go to Kocaeli province and kill Aydin’s brother-in-law, also a Protestant pastor.

He said that doctors had told him he needed six months to recover from his injuries, incurred when he fell from a third-floor balcony to the street trying to escape from the scene. He complained that, just a month later, right after his release from the hospital, he was subjected to four days of intense interrogations by police and prosecutors.

For this reason, Gunaydin said, he was rejecting all his previous, signed statements and presenting the court with his own written, “true” statement. But under questioning from the presiding judge and prosecutor, Gunaydin appeared unsure when asked about details in his new statement.

“I don’t remember,” he said repeatedly. “I have gone through trauma.”

“I am doubtful he actually wrote this himself,” one plaintiff lawyer told Compass after the hearing. “More likely, he just copied something that was prepared for him to write.”

When the court then invited plaintiff lawyers to begin their cross-examination of the witness, Gunaydin declared that he was claiming his legal right to remain silent for the remainder of the trial.

During cross-examination of Gurler during the morning court session, the suspect was quizzed in detail about his claims that once he and the others realized Gunaydin planned to kill the three Christians, they wanted to escape from the scene.

Gunaydin had locked the door and put the key in his pocket to prevent them leaving, he said. According to Gurler’s testimony, though, he opened the door when police arrived and demanded entrance. Gurler said he did not know how or when the key was put back in the lock.

In the afternoon session, Gunaydin declared he had left the key in the door when he locked it.

Judge Eray Gurtekin reminded both Gurler and Gunaydin of the repentance clause in the fourth article of Turkey’s penal code No. 221, under which their sentences would be reduced if they turned state’s evidence and informed the court about any individuals or organization behind this attack.

“There is no one behind this incident,” Gunaydin responded, echoing all four of the other suspects. “I will not wrongly accuse anyone.”

Results of Gunaydin’s bone testing, requested by defense attorneys at the April 14 hearing to prove he was under 18 years of age at the time of the murders, were rejected by the court as inconclusive.

Solitary Confinement ‘Inhumane’

Noting that all five suspects had now completed their court testimony, Gunaydin’s defense lawyer, Niyazi Tokmak, requested that the court remove the suspect from the heavy security measures of solitary confinement, under which he has been jailed for the past year.

“This treatment of my client is not humane,” Tokmak stated, complaining that Gunaydin’s cell was lighted 24 hours a day and remained under constant camera surveillance.

Unable to restrain herself, Ugur Yuksel’s elderly mother, sitting on the front bench of observers next to widow Suzanne Geske, cried out, “So is what they did humane?”

Several Turkish newspapers reported that Tokmak retorted, “Shut up. Don’t argue with me. Be quiet.”

To date, each suspect’s courtroom testimony and cross-examination has been conducted individually, to prevent fellow suspects from hearing the others’ statements.

But because of major contradictions between the five testimonies, the judge announced that all five will be summoned to be cross-examined together at the next hearing, set for June 9.

Representatives from several human rights groups joined an official observer from the German Embassy in Ankara and members of the Turkish and foreign press attending the May 12 hearing.

Turkish widow Semse Aydin again boycotted the trial proceedings, protesting the partiality of the judges hearing the case against her husband’s murderers.

With the panel of three judges hearing the case effectively blocking plaintiff attempts to procure evidence against both the murderers and the alleged instigators behind them, head plaintiff lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz said, “We can’t go anywhere with this. I am really frustrated.”

SIDEBAR

Informant’s Letter Names Alleged Masterminds

Near the close of Monday’s (May 12) hearing on the April 18, 2007 murders in Malatya, the state prosecutor asked Gunaydin if he knew a person named Metin Dogan.

Now jailed in Malatya’s Elbistan Prison for killing a man who had murdered his older brother, Dogan wrote a letter to the chief prosecutor of the Malatya Third Criminal Court dated February 5, 2008.

In the letter, made available to plaintiff lawyers just this week and obtained by Compass, Dogan claimed he had been offered $300,000 in 2005 to kill anyone he found in the Zirve Publishing Co. office in Malatya.

Since childhood, Dogan said, he had been an active Malatya member of the ultranationalist Ulku Ocaklari youth organization, linked unofficially with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“One day in 2005 Ulku Ocaklari President Burhan Coskun called me and told me to come immediately to MHP’s provincial office,” Dogan wrote. “I went immediately.”

Dogan said he found three men with Coskun, all waiting for him. He identified them as the provincial MHP president, Mehmet Ekici; a former MHP member of parliament identified only by his first name, Namik; and a retired major general.

“You are to telephone Zirve Publishing and threaten them,” Dogan said Namik told him. After he made the phone call, he said Namik told him, “We have put an end to them. This job fits you, my lion. You will do this. Whoever you find at the Zirve Publishing office, you will kill.”

Namik reportedly told him, “Don’t worry at all,” promising the major general would rescue him if necessary. He then proceeded to outline where and how he was to do the murders, promising to tell him later when to act.

“But before two months had passed,” Dogan wrote, “I went to prison for killing the man who had murdered my older brother. So then Emre Gunaydin, who I know, was given this job.”

Dogan said he was ready to back up his claims with “powerful proofs” to the court, and lawyers said they likely will call him to testify.

In today’s Taraf newspaper, the former MHP parliamentarian identified as Namik Durhan flatly denied Dogan’s allegations, calling them a “plot.” Insisting that he did not know Dogan and had never met him, he described Coskun as “a trustworthy person.”

According to a report today on the CNNTURK.com website, both Durhan and Ekici have denied the allegations in official statements requested by the prosecutor. There has been no response to date from military authorities regarding the general named in the letter.

“This man Dogan may be referring to a generally correct framework about these murders,” head plaintiff lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz told Compass. “But I am suspicious if he actually has any concrete evidence or not.”