A crisis in European-Turkish relations may be about to erupt because of evidence that the Turkish government sponsored the assassination of three female Kurdish activists in Paris last year. The activists belonged to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. and Europe.
On January 8, 2013, a gunman walked into the Kurdish Cultural Center of Paris with two objectives: End the life of Sakine Cansiz, one of the PKK founders—and get away. That would require killing two of her associates, also female.
A Turkish national named Omer Guney, supposedly a legitimate member of the PKK, was subsequently arrested and charged. Video footage placed him at the scene of the crime and when he was apprehended, he had traces of blood on his shoes with DNA traced to one of the victims.
Guney lived in Germany from 2003 to November 2011, when he approached the PKK as a sympathizer and began working for the France-based members as a translator. He also served as a driver at the Kurdish Cultural Center where the three Kurdish women would later lose their lives.
Soon, details emerged that raised questions about who Guney actually was and who he worked for. It was discovered that he took three trips to Turkey between August and December 2012, shortly before the assassination.
Turkey is the greatest enemy of the PKK. Why would a PKK member take multiple trips to enemy territory, risking imprisonment? Why would Turkey not detain him?
Information about his personal life raised further suspicion. He was on welfare after suddenly quitting a part-time job. Somehow, he still afforded dozens of suits and a total of nine expensive trips to Turkey, where he stayed in nice hotels.
With little income, how did he afford these trips, and why did he choose to spend it in the country he was supposedly at war with?
The borrowed car that Guney used on the day of the assassinations was searched by the French. Only after ripping the car apart did they discover a passport hidden behind the radio that showed three visits to Turkey. A bill for a dry-cleaning service days after the assassinations was also discovered.
Why did Guney go to such lengths to hide his passport? And why did he keep the dry-cleaning bill? Perhaps he simply didn’t want anyone to find it—or perhaps he needed it for reimbursement from somewhere. Even secret intelligence operations have accounting procedures.
The authorities then searched the three cell phones he used, including one that made frequent calls to Turkey. One day before the attack, he used one of them to get information on over 300 members of the Kurdish Cultural Center. He sent the data somewhere and then deleted it.
When he was interrogated about it, he said he was preserving the information for the PKK—but if that’s the case, then why did he delete it? The action strongly suggests he was gathering intelligence.
These were the observations and questions that led the French and Germans to suspect that Guney was acting on behalf of fellow NATO member Turkey. And now, three alleged smoking guns have surfaced.
A supposed recording of Guney talking to two Turkish MIT intelligence operatives was posted online. The idea that secret intelligence dealings could be released like this seems far-fetched, but Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s opponents have been leaking incriminating information about his government for months, intensifying his political struggle ahead of the March 30 municipal elections.
The recording, if authentic, show that Guney was discussing operational details about the assassinations with Turkish intelligence. For example, his handlers checked to make sure he wore gloves so he wouldn’t leave fingerprints.
The second potential smoking gun is a Turkish MIT intelligence document marked “secret” and dated November 18, 2012. The heading of it includes the name of Cansiz and the mission to ensure she is “rendered ineffective.” It confirmed the presence of a secret agent in Europe tasked with eliminating her and other senior PKK members.
According to Spiegel Online, a German newspaper, French and German investigators are confident that the Turkish document is legitimate. Concerns have been raised because of handwritten notes on the file.
“If it is a forgery, it is extremely well-done,” said an unnamed official involved with the investigation.
The third potential smoking gun is testimony from Murat Sahin, a former Turkish MIT operative now living in Switzerland. He claims that Guney worked in the same unit as he did and was shown a photo of him during his service. Sahin says he is willing to testify in court.
He also said that he believed Guney committed the assassination with one or two other operatives. Indeed, a search is underway in Turkey for two people he met with in Ankara shortly before the incident.
The PKK’s status as a terrorist organization does not negate the significance of what Turkey may have done. The carrying out of assassination by one NATO member on another NATO member’s territory would be a shockingly brazen move.
If the recording and documentation are authenticated or more evidence surfaces of Turkish intelligence involvement, Prime Minister Erdogan’s political crisis will escalate even more.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.