TODAY.AZ / Politics

Suspect confesses to journalist's killing

21 January 2007 [16:23] - TODAY.AZ
A teenager detained over the slaying of an ethnic Armenian journalist has confessed to the killing, the prosecutor said Sunday.

Police captured the suspect - identified as Ogun Samast - in the Black Sea city of Samsun late on Saturday, a day after Hrant Dink was gunned down in broad daylight outside his newspaper's office in Istanbul.

The slaying stunned the nation and highlighted the precarious state of freedom of expression in a country that is vying for European Union membership.

Police said the youth was captured following a tip from his father after pictures were broadcast on Turkish television.

Chief prosecutor Ahmet Cokcinar told The Associated Press that the teenager had confessed to killing Dink during initial questioning in Samsun. He refused to give any further details.

"All I can say is that Samast confessed during his questioning yesterday," Cokcinar said by telephone.

Samast, who is 16 or 17 years old, was apparently on his way by bus from Istanbul back to his home town of Trabzon when he was caught. Police escorted him on a private plane back to Istanbul where he was taken to a police station for further questioning, police said.

The photograph, taken by a security camera two blocks from the scene of Dink's shooting, had been broadcast across Turkey, and showed the suspect allegedly toting a gun and running from the scene.

Video footage showed paramilitary police at the Samsun bus station inspecting a pistol and then placing it into an evidence bag. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Samast was arrested with the gun believed to have been used in the killing.

Most Turks have assumed that the 52-year-old Dink, editor of the Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, was targeted for his public statements calling the killing of Armenians by Turks in the early 20th century genocide. Nationalists consider such statements an insult to Turkey's honor and a threat to its unity, and Dink had been showered with insults and threats.

Before the arrest, Istanbul Governor Muammer Guler had said that Dink's secretary identified the man in the photograph as the same person who had requested a meeting with Dink on the day he was killed. After the request was refused, the secretary said she saw the man waiting in front of a nearby bank about an hour before Dink was killed, Guler said.

Police also detained six other suspects in Trabzon, including Yasin Hayal, a man convicted in the bombing of a McDonald's restaurant in Trabzon in 2004, whom police believe may have incited the attack, Turkish news reports said. Hayal was alleged to be an Islamic militant and said he learned to make bombs from Chechen militants at a camp in Azerbaijan. The bomb injured six passers-by and was apparently an attack aimed at punishing the United States.

All six were also flown to Istanbul and police were investigating whether the teen had ties to a group.

Born in 1990, Samast would be a minor, raising questions about whether he could have been put up for the job by someone who hoped he could get away with a much lesser sentence, intelligence expert Bulent Orakoglu said in an interview on CNN-Turk.

Orakoglu and other analysts also questioned whether the attack against Dink could have links to the murder by a teenager of a Catholic priest in Trabzon last year.

"Ordered murdered by a kid," headlined the liberal Radikal newspaper on Sunday.

The suspect's uncle Faik Samast told private NTV television that he didn't think his nephew — an unemployed high-school drop out — was capable of acting alone.

"He didn't even know his way around Istanbul," Samast said. "This kid was used."

Regardless of the motives behind the crime, Dink's killing brought worldwide attention once again to the precarious state of free speech in Turkey and to the dangers journalists face here.

Turkey is the world's eighth most dangerous country for journalists, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which counts 18 reporters killed for their work in the past 15 years.

Threats and violence against Turkish editors and reporters is not uncommon, and well-known journalists commonly receive police protection and can be seen traveling around Istanbul with bodyguards. Dink was alone when he was killed.

Guler rejected accusations that the government did not do enough to protect Dink, saying the journalist had not asked for help. The Associated Press

/The International Herald Tribune/


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