Σάββατο, 2 Φεβρουαρίου 2013

Murder on the Rue Lafayette

Ten shots. Three dead. Despite the arrest of a suspect, the mystery of the assassination of three Kurdish women in Paris earlier this month deepens. Christopher Dickey reports.

The roses have withered and the garlands have wilted in front of the murder scene at 147 Rue Lafayette in Paris. The candles arranged on the sidewalk to spell PKK no longer burn. The photographs of the three women who were shot multiple times in the face have curled in the rain. They were activists tied to the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, at war with the Turkish government. Now the winter wind whips the flags of protest and independence, some of them bearing the likeness of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned on an island in the Sea of Marmara since the CIA helped catch him in 1999, and reportedly engaged in peace talks.
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A Kurdish woman holds a portrait of the slain founding member of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) Sakine Cansiz, during a protest against the killings of three Kurdish women activists in Diyarbakir, Turkey. (AFP/Getty)
A couple of French cops are parked next to a poster on the police barricade that says “the Kurdish people demand the whole truth,” but the officers are more interested in the games on their cellphones than in the scene around them. After all, on Jan. 21 a suspect was arrested for the murders that took place only 12 days before.
But, of course, there is no whole truth here. The narrative of this mystery has only begun to develop. And in the parts of Paris between the Gare du Nord and the Porte Saint Denis sometimes known as Little Kurdistan, many people have their own truths. The police and prosecutors have theirs as well, but are only revealing parts of them. And they admit they don’t yet have a motive. The suspect has denied the charges. A security official from Ankara fighting the PKK guerrillas in eastern Turkey, when I reached him by phone, had his own version of the crime: “But this is speculation,” he said, “not intelligence.” He thinks the Iranians or Syrians may have been involved. But what really upset him, he said, is that after the murders French President François Hollande said he actually knew one of the victims personally.
One remembers other cases involving the shadowy world of assassins in European cities, including the Turkish gunman who nearly killed Pope John Paul II in 1981. Conspiracy theories still abound about that case. Kurdish leaders were murdered in Vienna in 1989 and Berlin in 1992 by Iranian hit teams, and there are even persistent rumors, ferociously denied, that the present president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was somehow involved in the Vienna case. The Kurds fighting for autonomy or independence in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syrian have no end of enemies, and no shortage of vendettas among themselves. So it is no wonder the Paris killings have such a puzzling, and such a sinister, air about them.
“What is stunning about these murders is that on the one hand they were so amateurish,” says Rusen Werdi, head of the human rights office at the Kurdish Institute, a mainstream organization in Paris, “and on the other hand they are so professional.”
The most obvious example of that paradox is the video captured by the news crews that flocked to Rue Lafayette when the corpses of the three Kurdish activists were first discovered in the dark early morning of Jan. 10, more than 13 hours after they were shot. Clearly visible in the corners of several video clips, standing just outside the doors of 147 watching the crime scene investigators go in and out, is a man who looks very much like 30-year-old Omer Guney, who worked with two of the victims as a driver, translator, and factotum.
Later that day, according to members of the Kurdish community, Guney took part in protests against the killings, and that weekend he went to a memorial service for the dead. For good measure Guney visited the police voluntarily and told them his story of seeing the victims the day they were murdered, but he didn’t seem to realize there were closed circuit cameras that recorded him going in and out of the building at times decisively different than those he gave. He was filmed leaving the apartment with a heavy bag, which later showed traces of gunpowder. And thus he quickly became the prime suspect.
This is not exactly the performance of a professional hit man. And yet, the shooting itself appears to have been just that. The office-apartment of what is called the Kurdish Information Bureau was up one flight of stairs in a gray, 19th-century building with a chiseled stone arch above a battered wooden door and a wrought-iron balcony on one of the upper floors. Two of the rooms look out on the busy street just a few feet above the heads of pedestrians and the customers who are constantly going in and out of the electronic supply store and the little grocery next door at midday on a Wednesday, which was the time of the killing. But the third room of the office is at the back, and that is where the assassin apparently persuaded all three women to go.

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