Turkish Court Shootings Reflect Religious Divide
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
A gunman attacked the highest administrative court in the Turkish capital, Ankara, today. One judge was killed, four others were wounded. The gunman who was captured is described as an Islamist extremist and senior officials are calling the incident an attack on Turkey's secular traditions. Tensions have been mounting between the country's ruling political party, which has Islamist roots, and Turkey's secular establishment.
NPR's Ivan Watson has that story from Istanbul.
IVAN WATSON reporting:
The gunman burst into the courts known as the Council of State this morning and opened fire on the panel of judges while the court was in session. Eyewitnesses say the man yelled (unintelligible), or God is greatest, as he carried out the attack. Turkish television later showed emergency workers carrying bloodied judges on stretchers outside the courtroom.
(Soundbite of Turkish news coverage)
WATSON: Police captured the suspected shooter and later identified him as a lawyer from Istanbul named Alparslan Arslan. Turkish TV cameras confronted Arslan's father in Istanbul today, who said he was in shock.
Mr. IDRIS ARSLAN (Father of gunman):(Speaking foreign language)
WATSON: My son had no radical views, the man said. He loves his country and he's not an enemy of Turkey.
Condemnations of the attack streamed in from all sides. The Turkish president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, spoke to journalists outside the courtroom. He called the shooting a black mark in the history of the Turkish republic.
President AHMET NECDET SEZER (Turkey):(Through Translator) It was an attack against our republic and our republic's irrevocable democratic and secular character.
WATSON: Sezer is Turkey's most powerful secular politician. Recently he has grown increasingly critical of the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose political party has Islamist roots. Ilser Turon(ph) is a professor at Istanbul Builgi(ph) University.
Mr. ILSER TURON (Istanbul University): The secularist establishment is of the opinion that the government does actually have a hidden agenda of eventually rendering society more and more Islamic and changing the political order in that direction.
WATSON: Turon says the long-standing tension between Turkish secularists and Islamists has grown in recent months due to the fact that President Sezer will have to step down next year, leaving Erdogan and his party in a good position to capture both the prime ministry and the presidency.
For the past several months, Jumeryet(ph), Turkey's most staunchly secular newspaper, has waged a campaign against Islamists. Police are now on round the clock duty outside the newspaper's offices after unknown attackers threw bombs at the building on three separate occasions.
Memic Suju(ph), the paper's editor in chief, claims Islamic fundamentalists were behind the bombings of the newspaper and the shooting in the courtroom. He indirectly blames Prime Minister Erdogan for the attack.
Mr. MEMIC SUJU (Editor):(Through translator): He doesn't think that Erdogan has given the order, of course, but he probably has encouraged them with his words.
WATSON: Erdogan was clearly on the defensive today. He condemned the shooting, but he also warns Turks not to jump to conclusions and he called for a though investigation of the assault.
Ivan Watson, NPR News, Istanbul.
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