Turkey vows to hunt down ‘dark forces’ behind Istanbul hostage-taking
ISTANBULThe Turkish government vowed to fight against terrorism on April 1, a day after an Istanbul prosecutor and two hostage takers were killed in an operation in Istanbul’s Çağlayan courthouse after a six-hour crisis.
Şafak Yayla and Bahtiyar Doğruyol of the outlawed far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP/C) took prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz, 46, hostage in his office in Istanbul on March 31. All three were killed in a shootout with police that began at around 8:30 p.m.
Kiraz was laid to rest on April 1 after a ceremony in the courthouse where he was taken hostage, followed by funeral prayers in Istanbul’s Eyüp district.
“We don’t see this as an attack on our deceased prosecutor, but on the whole justice system. It is a gun directed at our nation,” Justice Minister Kenan İpek told mourners at a ceremony attended by hundreds of lawyers and judges.
“Our state is powerful enough to track down those behind these lowlifes. The fact that these assassins are dead shouldn’t put those nefarious and dark forces at ease,” he said, as Kiraz’s coffin, draped with the Turkish flag, stood on display in the courthouse foyer.
Many of Kiraz’s colleagues across Turkey released statements or held protests condemning the attack. Funeral prayers were held in many cities across Turkey for the slain prosecutor.
The Çağlayan Courthouse where the attack took place will be renamed the Mehmet Selim Kiraz Courthouse in memory of the prosecutor, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced in a press conference on April 1 in Ankara.
Davutoğlu also praised the police officers who conducted the operation during the hostage crisis, saying they had applied the instructions they had been given. Davutoğlu said the police were told to rescue the prosecutor alive from the attack but also to use every measure if they feared for his life.
Davutoğlu said they were investigating any possible international connections among the attackers.
“These terrorists made some international phone calls during this attack. They were connected to some circles abroad. We have been following these since last night. We have ordered operations against whomever is involved in this incident. Nobody should think that such a heinous attack will remain unanswered,” Davutoğlu said.
Police started the operation after they heard gunshots from the room, the prime minister said, although observers said they heard an explosion before gunshots, casting doubt onto the official version of the events.
Kiraz had been leading an investigation into the death last March of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who died nine months after falling into a coma from a head wound sustained from a police tear gas canister during Gezi Park protests in 2013.
The hostage-taking was an act of revenge for Elvan’s death, the DHKP/C said on its website.
Police, meanwhile, detained at least 10 people waiting at the morgue to receive the bodies of Yayla, a law student, and Doğruyol, amid attacks by security forces against university students who continued to protest in honor of Elvan throughout April 1.
Davutoğlu warned late on March 31 of the risk of increased violence ahead of the June 7 general election, urging all parties to “form a united front against terrorism.”
On his Twitter account, Deputy Prime Minister Emrullah İsler accused the hostage-takers of links to groups which incited violence during the 2013 unrest in which Elvan was injured. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has in the past described the teenager as a “pawn of terrorists.”
On March 31, Kiraz 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.
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.”
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 free passage away from the courthouse.
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.
The DHKP/C is a Marxist group formed in the late 1970s that has been behind a series of assassinations and suicide bombings, including fatal attacks on the U.S. Embassy. The Turkish police have also been a frequent target. The United States, European Union and Turkey list the DHKP/C as a terrorist organization.