Paris Investigation Tensions Grow over Murder of Kurdish Activists
Did Turkey's secret service order the killing of three Kurdistan Worker's Party activists in Paris last year? Suspicion is growing that it did, and Germany's domestic intelligence agency has curtailed its cooperation with the Turks as a result.
The triple murders in January 2014 of Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) activists in Paris may ultimately emerge as one of the most audacious political killings to take place in Western Europe in years. New suspicions -- although they are still only that -- suggest there may be Turkish intelligence links to the slayings, a development that, if proven, could have serious repercussions for relations between Ankara and Europe. The case has numerous links to Germany, and officials here are closely monitoring the investigation as it unfolds in France.
At the center of the explosive new details is a recording -- a purported conversation between Ömer Güney, the man accused of murdering the three female activists, and what are alleged to be two members of Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MIT). The recording was posted on the Internet on Jan. 12, ostensibly by a friend of Güney, who has since been charged by French prosecutors in the killing. Güney, who lived in Bavaria in Southern Germany from 2003 to 2011, had left the recording with the friend in case something happened to him.
The recording is 10 minutes long and includes what are purported to be details about the planned killings. "Are you thinking of using gloves?" a suspected MIT agent asks. "Yes," the alleged shooter answers. "No traces on the gun."
In the recording, the men discuss the fact that the killer needs two guns in case one of them fails. And that he wants to purchase his weapons and ammunition from an Arab in Belgium, but hasn't done so yet. Also that he has already had one opportunity to strike.
They talk about escape routes and about the possible risks. "Can they follow the trail of who obtained it?" one of the alleged officers asks. "No, it'll be in a blank package," the suspected hit man ensures. "Let's talk again. Let's review your plan," the men warn. "May God protect us from the smallest mistake, because you're important to us. The others aren't."
Were Killings a Hit Job?
Together with other circumstantial evidence, the recording is fueling the suspicion currently being pursued by French investigators. It is one that has also unsettled German security agencies. They suspect that Güney may have murdered the three PKK activists in a hit ordered by Turkey's MIT. The PKK is banned in the European Union as a terrorist organization.
The main piece of evidence supporting the theory is a document allegedly originating from MIT. The document discusses one of the three female activists being "rendered ineffective."
Is it possible that a country that wants to become a member of the EU allowed a contract killing to be conducted on EU territory?
Of course, it is still only a suspicion. But if proven, it could have dramatic consequences -- not only on the ties Germany and France have with Turkey, but between all of Europe and Ankara. The domestic political situation in Turkey is already fragile, and the developments could place even greater pressure on beleaguered Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Intelligence chief Hakan Fidan is a close confidant of the Turkish leader.
It also has the potential to trigger violent clashes in countries outside Turkey that are home to large Kurdish populations, including Germany. Security authorities in German will be observing the outcome of the investigations with great interest.
A year has passed since PKK activists Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Söylemez were murdered in a Kurdish information office near the Gare du Nord train station in Paris. They were killed with shots fired into their heads and stomachs from a 7.65 millimeter caliber pistol equipped with a silencer. Video camera footage shows Güney arriving at 11:30 a.m. in a car together with Cansiz in front of the office before disappearing again. At 12:11 p.m., he can be seen again. According to French media reports, the conversation that the three PKK activists were holding in the office ended abruptly at 12:43 p.m. At 12:56 p.m., Güney left the site. Gun powder traces were later detected on the bag he was carrying when he left.
Investigators Had Doubts Early On
Police arrested Güney a short time later -- and discovered traces of blood on his shoes as well as the DNA of one of the victims on his jacket. Given the evidence, he has emerged as the prime suspect in the murder investigation. A rumor spread quickly of a feud among PKK members that ended in the death of the three women. But investigators soon began to question that version of events.
After around eight years of living in Germany, in November 2011, Güney had offered his assistance as a fellow sympathizer to the Kurds in Villiers-le-Bel, a Paris suburb. He helped out as a translator and driver at the Kurdish cultural center there.
Yet during his time in Schliersee southeast of Munich, Güney had never attracted the attention of German authorities as a member of the Kurdish movement. On the contrary. They believed he had greater sympathies for Turkish nationalist circles. Friends have confirmed as much and say it is extremely unlikely he was a member of the PKK.
French investigators found other contradictions as well. Güney, for example, abandoned a part-time job, allegedly due to epileptic fits. Although he was then forced to live on around 900 ($1,228) in monthly welfare payments, investigators found dozens of suits at his home. They also discovered that he had taken at least nine trips to Turkey and stayed in expensive hotels.
According to an application for legal assistance from France, Güney entered Turkey for the last time on Dec. 25, 2012. During his stay, he telephoned with certain numbers particularly often, numbers that he began dialling again in the period shortly before the attack. He apparently used three different mobile phone numbers, two French ones and a Turkish number. Conspicuously, however, one of the French numbers was used for calls to a single Turkish number.
The analysis of one of his mobile phones also revealed that on the night of Jan. 7, 2013 -- one day prior to the attack -- more than 300 membership applications from the Villiers-le-Bel cultural centers were photographed. The data was sent out, and then deleted. Güney, who denies responsibility for the murder, offered a simple explanation to Paris Public Prosecutor Jeanne Duyé and her investigators: He said he is a member of the PKK and photographed the files because the PKK was concerned that a police raid was imminent and the files were to be destroyed. He told the skeptical investigators that he was just "following orders." From whom, they wanted to know. "From superiors," came the response.
One year after the murder, on Jan. 12, alleged recordings from Güney's conversation with the two suspected agents appeared in a blog. The URL ended in ".de", but the site is apparently operated from Turkey. According to the French media, investigators are certain that it is Güney's voice on the recordings, a claim that Güney himself denies. A forensic analysis is pending.
A New Explosive Document
Only two days later, a further, potentially explosive document appeared on the web. The note, which allegedly comes from the Turkish intelligence service MIT, is labeled "secret." It was composed on Nov. 18, 2012 and carries the heading "Sara Sakine Cansiz." And it may be nothing less than the order that resulted in the liquidation of the well-known PKK activist.
In the document, an agent with the alias "Legionnaire" is tasked with the "rendering ineffective" of high-ranking members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party.
During his most recent stay in Turkey, the assassin was instructed to make preparations to undertake as "attack against the organization targets in Europe." He was given 6,000 in payment.
According to the document, the agent spied on the victim's apartment and researched her social contacts. The alleged MIT note says that the agent could be used "to render ineffective the mentioned member of the organization." In addition, it says that plans existed "to instruct" the source "for a move against Sakine Cansiz, codenamed Sara, by means of the formerly designated coded statements."
It cannot be excluded that the paper is a forgery, but French investigators don't believe that to be the case. Germany security personnel have likewise examined the document.
They say that the language used in the document as well as the watermark it bears both testify to its authenticity. The names listed on the document are all members of the Turkish secret services and are in fact entrusted with issues relating to the PKK. Among them is a department head who German officials know personally: Not long ago, secret service officer Ugur Kaan A. visited Germany with a delegation from Ankara.
German Inteligence Officials Alarmed
What makes German authorities wary, however, are handwritten notes on the document. They consider such notes to be "rather unusual." Still, there are plenty of indications that it is real. "If it is a forgery, it is extremely well done," says one high-ranking official. "Plenty of insider knowledge" would be necessary to fake such a document. The Turkish government declined to respond to inquiries.
Normally, German security officials cooperate with MIT, also when it comes to keeping an eye on PKK activists. After all, the Kurdistan Workers' Party is banned in the EU as a terrorist organization. But now, the suspicion that MIT might have orchestrated the execution of PKK members within the EU has alarmed Germany's domestic intelligence agency. Officers have noted the need for "particular care when passing on data relating to specific individuals."
That could, of course, be rephrased as follows: Cooperation on cases relating to Kurds has been put on hold for the time being. Nobody wants to be responsible for passing on information that could lead to an execution.
Translated from the German by Charles Hawley and Daryl Lindsey