The brutal assassination in central Paris of three Kurdish militants, including a founder member of the separatist group the PKK, sent a wave of shock through France and Turkey today.
The three women were found shot in the head at a Kurdish “information centre” a few steps from the Gare du Nord in the early hours of yesterday morning. The attack is believed to have occurred at least eight hours earlier.
Police broke down the blood-stained door of the office in a classic Parisian apartment block and discovered what one officer called a scene of “cold-blooded butchery, almost certainly an execution”. Two of the women had been shot in the back of the head and the other in the forehead and chest.
Turkish government officials and French intelligence sources last night blamed faction-fighting within the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) for the killings. They said that the murders were probably connected to exploratory talks between the Turkish government and the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, which were revealed in the Turkish press on Wednesday. The negotiations were said to have produced a “road-map” to end the 30-year-old civil war in south-eastern Turkey in which 40,000 people are believed to have died. One of the victims – and possibly the principal target – was Sakine Cansiz, in her late 50s, a long-time associate of Mr Ocalan and a founder member of the PKK, which was established in 1978.
In recent years Ms Cansiz had apparently fallen out with the PKK’s splintered leadership, but remained a supporter of the Kurdish separatist cause. Last night President François Hollande said: “This is a horrible crime [involving] three people, one of whom I knew well because she often came to see political leaders [in France].” It is believed that Mr Hollande was referring to Ms Cansiz.
Police sources told the French media that there was no sign of a break-in, suggesting that the three women may have opened the door to whoever killed them. The other victims were named as Fidan Dogan, 28, a Brussels-based official of the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), a support-group for the PKK, and Leyla Soylemez, 25, who ran a Kurdish youth association in Paris.
Ms Soylemez’s boyfriend became anxious late on Wednesday night after she failed to answer her mobile. He went to the Kurdish Information Office on the Rue Layafette between the Gare du Nord and the Gare de l’Est and found traces of blood on the outer door. He called police who broke down the first-floor and found the bodies. Detectives believe the women were killed some time between 3pm and 6pm on Wednesday.
Political assassinations are rare events in Paris or any other Western European capital. The French Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, visited the crime scene this morning. “Three women have been murdered, doubtless executed,” he said. “This is a very serious event… The French authorities will do all in their power to throw light on this completely intolerable act.”
Tonight there were a number of theories about who was responsible for the attack. Ms Cansiz had been granted political asylum in France after being imprisoned in Turkey, although did not live permanently in Paris. Kurdish officials in Paris dismissed the “internal quarrel” theory, instead blaming agents of the Turkish government or French-based activists in extreme nationalist Turkish right. Once news of the killings had got out more than 300 Kurdish exiles demonstrated and waved Kurdish flags in the rain close to the murder scene. They chanted “Turkey assassins. Hollande is their accomplice,” and “We are all in the PKK.”
The PKK was founded in 1978 by Mr Ocalan and Ms Cansiz, among others, to campaign for a Marxist Kurdish state in south eastern Turkey and the Kurdish-populated areas of Iran, Iraq and Syria. It began a military campaign in the mid-1980s after repression by the then military junta in Ankara. It is classed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU and Mr Ocalan has been in a Turkish jail since 1999.
According to reports in the Turkish press on Wednesday, the peace talks between Ankara and Mr Ocalan would involve a ceasefire in return for release of prisoners and official recognition of the Kurdish language and culture. Today’s murders, according to the Turkish government and French intelligence sources, may have been intended to discredit or destroy these talks. The PKK has a history of bloody settlement of internal battles, including, allegedly, murders on foreign soil.
A Turkish political commentator, Emre Uslu, who once worked in Turkey’s counter-terrorism unit, suggested that the killings might have been ordered by the PKK leadership, pointing out that Ms Cansiz led a faction that had opposed Mr Ocalan’s peace moves in the past. But a Kurdish official in Paris, Eyup Doru, dismissed the claims and said that he was convinced that the Turkish government was responsible. “The work [these three women] were doing, attracting attention to repression by the Turkish authorities, doubtless embarrassed the [Ankara] government,” he said.
This theory was dismissed by French intelligence sources. “It’s difficult to imagine the Turkish state undertaking this kind of operation in France,” an internal security source told the newspaper Le Figaro. “Police and judicial cooperation is one area where Paris and Ankara get on reasonably well. It is unthinkable, even ridiculous, to believe that this was a Turkish undercover action.” Others pointed out, however, that extreme nationalist Turkish groups were active within the Turkish diaspora in France. The information office had been repeatedly identified by the Turkish community in Paris as a source of recruitment and fund-raising for the PKK.
The victims: Who was who
As a founding member of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Sakine Cansiz was the first senior female member of the organisation. Cansiz led the Kurdish protest movement out of Turkey’s Diyarbakir prison in the 1980s, and worked with Ocalan in Syria after her release. She later served as a commander of the women’s guerrilla movement in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.
According to a US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, Cansiz had been in Paris since she was released from jail in Germany in 2007 – after Berlin turned down a Turkish request for her extradition – and became responsible for the PKK women’s movement in Europe.
Hurriyet, the Turkish daily newspaper, said Cansiz had been “known for her opposition to the alleged head of the PKK’s armed-wing, Syrian citizen Ferman Hussein”.
The 32-year-old Paris representative of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress (KNC) political group worked in the information centre, and was responsible for lobbying European Union diplomats on behalf of the PKK.
Described as a “young activist” for the Kurdistan National Congress, she is believed to have worked on diplomatic relations and as a women’s representative on behalf of the PKK.