France reopens probe into killing of 3 Kurdish activists


Paris (AFP)

French officials have reopened an investigation into the 2013 Paris killings of three female Kurdish activists, after their families asked them to look at whether Turkish agents were involved, sources said Wednesday.

A Paris anti-terror judge has been appointed to the case following a complaint filed in March 2018 by the victims' families, several sources told AFP.

Paris prosecutors have now opened an investigation into alleged complicity with a terror group in the killings, a judicial source said.

"It is historic. This marks the end of impunity for political assassinations in France ordered from abroad," Antoine Comte, a lawyer for one of the families, told AFP.

Turkish national Omer Guney had been charged with murdering the three but died in hospital of brain cancer in December 2016, just before his case came to trial.

After his death, relatives had expressed fear that justice would never be done for the three murdered women.

Guney was charged with killing 54-year-old Sakine Cansiz -- one of the founders of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) -- Fidan Dogan, 28, and 24-year-old Leyla Soylemez. They were shot in the offices of the Kurdistan Information Centre on January 9, 2013.

The reopening of the case risks further straining ties between Turkey and France, which have endured a rocky period over the last months.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and France's Emmanuel Macron initially seemed to strike up a working bond.

But their relationship has deteriorated after France designated a day to remember the genocide of Armenians in World War I, a term vehemently rejected by Turkey.

- 'Death didn't close case'-

Guney denied involvement in the killings, though investigators said they had surveillance footage of him entering the crime scene and the DNA of one of the victims was allegedly found on his coat.

His death meant that the case against him was closed.

But the families of the victims pressed for the investigation to be continued, pointing to documents they said proved the involvement of Turkey's National Intelligence Organisation (MIT).

Comte commented: "Prosecutors admit that the case did not finish with the death of the suspect and the judge will look at all the elements, including the involvement of a foreign state."

In January 2014, MIT officially denied any role in the killings.

But French investigators had concluded that members of the Turkish national intelligence agency MIT were "implicated" in the triple murder, according to legal sources.

However, the investigators had been unable to establish whether the service sponsored the hit or whether agents were acting on their own initiative.

A legal source said Wednesday it had been established that Guney had been active in espionage, maintained secret contacts with people in Turkey and even had a prison escape plan involving an MIT agent.

The complaint, filed by the families and seen by AFP, quotes from statements allegedly made by two MIT agents abducted in northern Iraq by Kurdish forces purportedly pointing to the involvement of Turkish intelligence in the killings.

Pro-Kurdish websites have alleged the two agents were captured in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2017 ahead of a planned secret operation. But their disappearance has never been officially confirmed by Ankara.

The PKK launched its insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984, initially fighting for Kurdish independence although it now focuses on greater autonomy and rights for the country's largest ethnic minority.

It is banned as a terror group not just by Turkey but also the United States and the European Union.

France has over the last decades been the scene of several notorious assassinations, most notably the killing outside Paris in 1991 of Shapour Bakhtiar, the last prime minister of Iran under deposed shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

His assassin Ali Vakili Rad was freed from a French jail and flew home in May 2010 amid controversy over whether his release was tied to that of a French academic freed by Tehran days earlier.