Hostage drama at Istanbul courthouse ends with two captors, prosecutor dead
ISTANBULA Turkish prosecutor succumbed to his injuries in hospital late March 31 after a six-hour hostage drama in which security forces killed the man's captors, two suspected members of an outlawed far-left group.
Mehmet Selim Kiraz, the prosecutor in the controversial case into the killing of Gezi victim Berkin Elvan, was taken out of Istanbul's Çağlayan Courthouse by security forces after the clash, seriously injured, but died in hospital.
"We carried out the negotiation for six hours. But our security forces launched the operation after gunshots were heard while terrorists were speaking on the phone during the negotiation," Istanbul Police Chief Selami Altınok said after the operation.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan congratulated the security forces for the operation, while also noting that Kiraz was shot five times during the episode, with three bullets hitting his head. Erdoğan added that the perpetrators stormed the prosecutor's room while "wearing lawyer robes."
Early in the day, a photo was released on social media showing someone pointing a gun at the head of Kiraz against the backdrop of a flag of the illegal organization, which was first shared on Twitter by @aysekosan123, suspected to be affiliated with the outlawed far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP/C). The account was hacked soon after. “This account has been seized. Everything is for the TURKISH people,” the hackers wrote in a tweet.
Various Twitter accounts linked to leftist organizations stated that the DHKP/C claimed responsibility for the hostage-taking incident.
Deadline for demands pass
According to a statement carried on halkinsesi.tv, a site that is close to the group, the perpetrators gave the authorities until 3:36 p.m. to meet its demands.
The perpetrators’ demands included a live confession by the police officers suspected of killing Elvan, the prosecution of the officers responsible in a “people’s court,” the acquittal of all people being tried for participation in solidarity rallies for Elvan, as well as other requests.
Meanwhile, gunshots were said to have been heard at the building during the hostage-taking process, which took place at 12:36 p.m.
Special teams were dispatched to the scene. It remains unknown how the assailants entered the building with a gun, but police cordoned off the sixth floor of the courthouse where Kiraz’s room is located and evacuated the courthouse.
Istanbul Police Chief Altınok told reporters in the afternoon in front of the courthouse that negotiators were talking with the perpetrators, adding that two people had taken Kiraz hostage.
Deputy Chief Prosecutor Orhan Kapıcı said they did not want any "negative incident" and the state’s institutions were “doing what is necessary” to solve the incident.
Speaking to Hürriyet, Deputy Chief Prosecutor Vedat Yiğit said negotiations between the group and the police “continued via a mediator who the group picked.”
Elvan died on March 11, 2014, 269 days after he was sent into a coma when he was struck by a tear-gas canister during the Gezi protests. Kiraz was appointed as the prosecutor of the controversial case six months ago.
Rescue operation launched after negotiations failed
Hüseyin Aygün, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said in a series of tweets that he had called Berkin Elvan’s father, Sami Elvan, who demanded the release of the prosecutor.
“My son died, but another person should not die,” Aygün quoted the father as saying.
“I don’t want anyone to even get a nosebleed. Until today, I’ve only demanded justice, and I only want a fair trial,” Sami Elvan also said in a tweet.
Hürriyet correspondent Dinçer Gökçe called the mobile phone number of Kiraz as the hostage situation continued. "The prosecutor is not available right now," a man said on the phone without revealing his identity. He hung up as another person apparently near him shouted "police."
Niyazi Mavi, a lawyer, told CNNTürk that the courthouse "continued working as usual" on the other floors as the hostage crisis unfolds at 2.23 p.m. Less than one hour later, television channels reported that security forces evacuated the building to "prepare to launch an operation to end the crisis."
Amid an apparent failure at the negotiation, security forces led the mediator out of the building. Gunshots and a loud explosion were heard at 8.35 p.m., according to eyewitnesses.
After both perpetrators identified as B.D. and Ş.Y. were killed, the prosecutor, who has life-threatening injuries, was taken to the nearby Florence Nightingale Hospital, Turkish officials said. He died at the hospital after a medical operation to save his life failed.
Meanwhile, the hostage-taking situation led to another gag order, adding to a total of over 150 similar rulings issued in the past four years in Turkey.
Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan instructed the Supreme Council of Radio and Television (RTÜK) to enforce the government ban soon after the hostage-taking incident occurred. RTÜK forwarded the decision to Turkish TV stations, which then cut their coverage of the ongoing crisis.
'No link' to massive blackout
At the time when the perpetrators stormed the prosecutor’s room, scores of Turkish provinces, including Istanbul were suffering from the worst power blackout in 15 years.
Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said it would not be right to link the power outage with the hostage-taking in the courthouse, according to Doğan News Agency.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who had convened related ministers over the blackout, added other ministers to the meeting in order to discuss the extraordinary hostage situation.
Meanwhile, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu tweeted about the incident, questioning whether the power blackout was intentionally made to smuggle the weapons inside the courthouse, while also pointing his finger at the National Intelligence Agency (MİT).
“If this country’s National Intelligence Agency deals with issues that are none of its business, then the offices of the republic’s prosecutors will be busted open with fanfare!” read a part of Kılıçdaroğlu’s tweet.
The Turkish government inaugurated the gigantic Çağlayan Courthouse complex in 2011 as “the largest courthouse in Europe.”