Suspect in murders of Kurdish activists dies in Paris hospital

 Protesters in Ankara

Protesters in Ankara

A 34-year-old Turkish man suspected of killing three Kurdish activists, including one of the cofounders of the banned PKK, in Paris in January 2013 died Saturday morning in a Parisian hospital days before the start of his trial.

Omer Güney, the only suspect in the 2013 killings of three female Kurdish activists in Paris in January 2013, died Saturday morning at the Pitié-Salpétrière hospital following a battle with a serious brain injury, a judicial source told the AFP.

Güney was charged with the murders of Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Soylemez in a Kurdish cultural centre in the 10th arrondissement of the French capital.

Cansiz was a prominent Kurdish activist and a co-founder of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), a leftist group considered a terrorist organisation in Turkey, the EU and the US.

The three women were shot at close range in broad daylight in a busy Parisian neighbourhood not far from the Gare du Nord, sparking shocked reactions and condemnations across France.

Güney was charged with “assassinations in connection with a terrorist enterprise” shortly after the killings.

His death, in effect, puts an end to his trial, which was scheduled to start on January 23, 2017.

Families of victims express anger over deprivation of justice

Responding to the news of his death, lawyers for the families of the victims issued a statement expressing the “anger of the families of the victims, deprived of a public trial for which they had waited for nearly four years; families, who had placed their hopes in the French justice system”.

The families of the victims expressed their “consternation to see that, once again, France is still not able to judge a political crime committed on French territory by foreign secret services,” according to the statement signed by lawyers Sylvie Boitel, Antoine Comte, Virginia Dusen, Jan Fermon and Jean-Louis Malterre.

A judicial source told the AFP that French investigators had concluded that members of the Turkish secret service, MIT, were involved in the triple murder.

But the investigations did not establish whether these agents acted “with the backing of their superiors” or “without the knowledge of the secret service in order to discredit or harm the peace process”.

At the time of the murders, the Turkish government was engaged in a peace process with the PKK in a bid to end a longstanding conflict between the Turkish state and the left-wing organisation, which peaked in the 1990s and killed more than 40,000.

The peace process collapsed in 2015, shortly after the June 7 election saw the pro-Kurdish HDP party cross the required 10 percent vote threshold to enter parliament for the first time. Fighting between the PKK and the Turkish state has since flared up again as Kurds across the southern Turkish border with Syria have been asserting their influence on the Syrian battlefields.

Germany arrests Turk for spying on Kurds

During the investigation, Güney denied the charges despite incriminating evidence, including video surveillance filmed of him entering the Kurdistan Information Centre building shortly before the crimes. DNA of one of the victims was found on Güney’s parka and his bag contained traces of gunpowder.

The accused, a former maintenance officer at the Charles de Gaulle airport, had approached Kurdish associations in the Paris region at the end of 2011. Described by his relatives as an ultra-nationalist Turk, he had infiltrated the movement “for the purpose of surveillance and espionage” with the aim of “eliminating PKK cadres,” according to the source close to the investigation.

The Turkish intelligence services in January 2014 officially denied any role in the killings.

Güney’s death came a day after the German federal prosecutor’s office revealed that a Turkish national suspected of spying on Ankara’s behalf on the large Kurdish community in Germany had been arrested in the city of Hamburg.

The 31-year-old is suspected of having gathered, “on behalf of the Turkish secret service, information on the places of residence, personal data and political activity of Kurds living in Germany, as well as on Kurdish organisations,” said the statement released by the prosecutor’s office.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticised Europe for not doing enough to crack down on the PKK and has accused Germany of harbouring “terrorists”.