The 17-year-old Semih Seymen was detained over the weekend after he called Pastor Orhan Picaklar of the Samsun Agape Church several times since late December, threatening to kill him, said Turkey’s Taraf newspaper.
Police forces specialized in anti-terror actions monitoring the phone calls tracked down the suspect and arrested him Saturday, January 5, officials said. However Judge Sinan Sonmez of Samsun’s First Minor Petty Offenses Court apparently ruled the next day, Sunday, January 6, that Seymen should be released because of his youth.
Pastor Picaklar reportedly condemned the decision saying in published remarks that the defendant "openly confessed he was going to carry out a massacre…" It came after previous attacks against the church, including in January 2007, when some 30 heavy rocks were thrown through the Samsun Agape Church windows, several of them smashing interior windows and denting walls, the pastor said earlier.
Turkish media said Seymen admitted he had told friends late Saturday, January 5, he wanted to "do a massacre" the next morning at the Agape Church during Sunday worship. However Seymen allegedly also told police interrogators he was drunk when making the threats and that they could not be taken seriously.
He also wanted to threaten the Trabzon Catholic Church, but reportedly changed his mind when a woman answered the phone. The latest threats underscored anxiety among Christian leaders in a country where at least five Christians were killed and several others injured in attacks within the last two years.
In April last year, a German and two Turkish citizens — were found with their hands and legs bound and their throats slit at the Zirve Christian publishing house in the central city of Malatya.
The attack came shortly after a suspected nationalist killed Armenian Christian editor Hrant Dink. In February 2006, a Turkish teenager shot a Catholic priest dead as he prayed in his church, and two other Catholic priests were attacked later that year.
One of the latest, non-fatal, attacks occurred last month when an Italian Roman Catholic priest, Driano Franchini, was stabbed December 16, after Sunday Mass at St. Anthony’s church in the port city of Izmir. He was released from hospital several days later.
A prosecutor charged a 19-year-old man with stabbing and wounding with a knife, but no trial date was set yet, BosNewsLife monitored.
The European Union has complained that Turkey, an EU applicant, fails to fully protect the religious freedoms of its tiny Christian minority, which numbers some 100,000 in a predominantly Muslim population of nearly 75 million people, according to estimates.
While Turkey is officially "secular" Muslim militants and nationalists oppose Christian activities in the country, analysts and church observers say. (With BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos and reporting from Turkey).