Mystery Unfurls in Killings of Kurds ; 3 Women Activists Found Shot at Information Office in the Center of Paris

By Dan Bilefsky; Alan Cowell | International Herald Tribune, January 11, 2013 | Go to article overview

Mystery Unfurls in Killings of Kurds ; 3 Women Activists Found Shot at Information Office in the Center of Paris


Dan Bilefsky; Alan Cowell, International Herald Tribune


Three Kurdish women, including a founding member of a leading Kurdish militant group fighting for autonomy in Turkey, were found shot to death on Thursday in Pairs.

Three Kurdish women, including a founding member of a leading Kurdish militant group fighting for autonomy in Turkey, were found shot to death on Thursday in what appeared to be a targeted attack that brought the Kurds' violent political struggles to the heart of the French capital.

The culprit and precise motive in the shootings remained a mystery. While some Kurdish activists were quick to blame Turkey nationalists or authorities, the killings set off immediate speculation that the attack was the bloody result of an internecine struggle within the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known by the initials P.K.K. The group has been fighting a bitter guerrilla war against the Turkish authorities for almost three decades to reinforce demands for greater autonomy.

Analysts and officials in Turkey argued that it seemed no coincidence that the killings had come just days after reports of the peace negotiations involving Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the P.K.K. who was incarcerated in 1999 in a fortresslike prison on the western Turkish island of Imrali. The killings could now jeopardize that peace effort.

The attack bore the hallmarks of an assassination, though it was not clear that all those found were intended as targets. It took place in a nondescript building that housed a Kurdish Information Center in the gritty 10th Arrondissement near the Gare du Nord rail station, a working class immigrant neighborhood of Turkish kebab shops and hair salons.

The Kurdish Information Center is only accessible from the outside by a digital code, and there is no plaque outside, suggesting that the operation had been carefully planned, said Rusen Werdi, a Kurdish activist at the neighboring Paris Kurdish Institute on Rue La Fayette, the street where the killings took place, and a colleague of two of the victims.

Ms. Werdi said that the door of the first floor where the victims were found was locked and covered with blood stains. When colleagues broke down the door, she said they discovered three bodies, two with bullets to the back of the head and one with a bullet in the stomach.

The bodies, she said, were first discovered in the early hours of Thursday by friends who had become concerned about the whereabouts of the women after cellphone calls went unanswered and none returned home.

Speaking to French reporters, Leon Edart, who manages the Kurdish Information Center, suggested the victims may have opened the door to their killer or killers.

Police acknowledged that the motive behind the executions remained mysterious. The women's bodies were discovered shortly before 2 a.m. on Thursday, according to Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre, a spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor's office, who said that the anti-terror department of the prosecutor's office would oversee the investigation of the killings.

News reports identified one of the women as Sakine Cansiz, a founder of the P.K.K. Another was identified as Fidan Dogan, the head of the Kurdish Information Center and a representative of the Kurdistan National Committee. The third woman was Leyla Soylemez, a youthful Kurdish activist.

Ms. Thibault-Lecuivre confirmed that Ms. Dogan, born in 1984, and Ms. Soylemez, born in 1988, were victims in the killings, but declined to confirm the identity of the third woman.

An organization called the Federation of Kurdish Associations in France, representing many of the estimated 150,000 Kurdish exiles in the country, said in a statement that the women might have been killed on Wednesday afternoon with weapons equipped with silencers.

French police officials said the bodies and three shell casings were found in a room at the institute. The women were all said to hold Turkish passports.

"Why anyone would want to do this is unclear," Ms. …

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