Police said they detained a dozen suspects linked to the slayings of a German man and two Turks, all former Muslims, who were found with their hands and legs tied and their throats slit at the Zirve publishing house in the town of Malatya Wednesday, April 18.
The German man, identified as 45-year-old interpreter Tilman Ekkehart Geske, had been living in Malatya since 2003. Two other Turkish Christians, Necati Aydin, 35, and Ugur Yuksel ,32, – were also found tied up and their throats slit.
Turkish media reports said the suspects were believed to be members of a cell of nationalist-Islamist extremists similar to one in the northern city of Trabzon blamed for the January murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.
On Saturday, April 21, police detained a woman who was described as the girlfriend of one of the 11 suspects already in custody, Malatya Gov. Halil Dasoz told reporters.
Media reports said one of the other suspects tried to escape from police by jumping from a fourth floor balcony at the scene of the killings on Wednesday, April 18. Hospital officials reportedly said he was in stable condition and was improving.
The killings has added to concern within Turkey’s tiny Christian community about its future amid growing nationalism and intolerance following Dink’s killing and the shooting of Italian Roman Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in the town of Trabzon in February 2006..
As new details emerged about the killings, Geske’s wife Susanne Geske, said she did not harbor any thoughts of revenge, Evangelical news agency Idea reported. She said she had been living in Malatya for ten years and intends to stay there. Susanne Geske said she is hopeful that the aftermath of the murders will signal a new beginning for the relations between Christians and Muslims in Turkey. Many Muslims had shown their outrage about the murders and expressed their condolences to the bereaved.
In a statement monitored by BosNewsLife the Chairman of Turkey’s Protestant Churches’ Union, Bedri Peker said anti-Christian sentiment has been fostered by Turkey’s nationalist education system and encouraged by politicians and the media. Peker reportedly added that Turkey’s Christians have the right to worship freely and spread their faith through peaceful means, but they are regarded as what he called "spies and enemies of the state."
Ihsan Ozbek, the pastor of the Ankara-based Kurtulus Church that reportedly received many anonymous threats, told the Voice Of America (VOA) network that the government appeared reluctant to tackle the violence against Christians. He said no government official outside Malatya has contacted church officials to offer condolences.
Turkey’s government, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former Islamist, has expressed concern over the spread of Christian missionary activity in Turkey, VOA reported. Mehmet Aydin, minister of state in charge of religious affairs reportedly called missionaries "separatist and destructive."
In published remarks, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who as Vatican secretary of state is Pope Benedict XVI’s top aide, called the attack "an insane act by a fanatic minority," and urged renewed dialogue. "We must not waste the fruits of the pope’s visit to Turkey, which has really brought us closer," Bertone was quoted as saying by Italian news agency ANSA. But on Sunday, April 22, his words appeared wishful thinking. (With BosNewsLife Monitoring and reporting from Turkey).