Paris Shootings Murdered Kurdish Activists Had Ties to Germany

The murder of three Kurdish activists in Paris last week remains a mystery, but SPIEGEL has uncovered details about their ties to Germany. Two of the women were under investigation by German federal prosecutors.

Slain Kurdish activist Sakine Cansiz (L) with Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), in 1995.

Slain Kurdish activist Sakine Cansiz (L) with Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), in 1995.

Two of the three Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) activists shot to death last week in Paris were important functionaries within the banned organization's German wing, and were also under investigation here, SPIEGEL has learned.

The German attorney general was looking into potential criminal activities by Sakine Cansiz and Leyla Söylemez, who were found murdered along with a third woman at the Kurdish Information Center in the French capital last Thursday. They were suspected of supporting a terrorist organization abroad.

Cansiz was known as an important figure in the northern German cadre of the PKK, the Kurdish separatist group considered to be a terrorist organization by Turkey and most Western countries. She was also a member of the Kurdish National Congress in Brussels.

In March 2007, authorities arrested Cansiz in a café in Hamburg's Schanzenviertel district with an international warrant issued by Turkey, but the city's regional appeals court opted not to extradite her. The court ruled that the accusations against Cansiz were too vague.

Concurrently, however, Hamburg state prosecutors began investigating her for her role in the PKK. Federal prosecutors took over the case in 2008.

A close companion of now imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, Cansiz herself spent some 12 years in Turkey's Diyarbakir Prison, notorious for the systematic torture that took place there, and later went on to become an important PKK representative in Europe. In 1998 France granted Cansiz asylum, but most recently she was thought to have spent time in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

New Strain on Peace Efforts

Leyla Söylemez's connection to Germany began in the 1990s, when she fled here with her family. Living in the eastern German city of Halle, she studied architecture and was an active member of the PKK youth branch. Some years ago, however, she quit her studies, apparently to concentrate fully on her political activities.

While it remains unclear exactly who might be behind the mysterious shootings, the triple-murder in Paris is likely to strain recent efforts toward reconciliation between the Turkish government and the PKK. On Dec. 28, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed during a television interview that after a long hiatus, his government had renewed talks with PKK leader Öcalan, who is currently in solitary confinement on the island of Imrali, in the Sea of Marmara. Shortly thereafter, one of Erdogan's advisors disclosed that the head of Turkey's MIT intelligence agency, Hakan Fidan, had spent Dec. 23 and 24 on the island to meet with the prisoner.

The New Year then brought permission for two Kurdish politicians to meet with Öcalan as well. It was the first time since his arrest and imprisonment that he was given such a privilege, and its very occurrence is evidence that the man seen as a terrorist leader by the majority of the Turkish government is now ready to take an active role in finding a peaceful solution to decades of bloody conflict in the country's southeast.

Turkish media had also recently reported that a fundamental agreement had already been made. Some suspect that the murders were an attempt to stall the peace talks, though it remains unclear who was responsible and both sides are blaming each other for the crime.

Over the weekend some 15,000 people from around Europe -- many of them Kurds living in Germany -- gathered in Paris to demand justice in the murders in Paris.

Appearing on television on Saturday, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan demanded that France solve the murders "immediately," and criticized the country for granting Cansiz asylum. Turkey has frequently criticized European nations for inadequate support in its fight against the PKK, and Erdogan also mentioned Germany's decision not to extradite Cansiz in 2007.



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