Turkey Busts Alleged Murder Network

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Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink

Turkey's Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk might sleep a little easier tonight — or not. A series of dramatic arrests over the weekend has laid bare what is alleged to be a shadowy network of ultra-nationalist killers with connections in high places. Their hit list allegedly included the famous writer, targeted for speaking out about Turkey's patchy treatment of its minorities.

The allegations, widely reported by Turkish newspapers, are certainly as dark as anything Pamuk ever wrote. Istanbul prosecutors have arrested 13 people, including a former general and a high-profile lawyer, on charges of "provoking armed rebellion against the government." They are suspected of involvement in last year's string of nationalist-motivated murders, which cost the lives of prominent ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and three Christian missionaries, according to newspapers.

Police picked up the trail that led to the weekend arrests last summer when they raided a house in a rundown Istanbul district that revealed a stockpile of weapons and explosives. A number of low-ranking military officials were subsequently detained. The military, a powerful behind-the-scenes force in Turkey, weighed in and a gag order was placed on investigators. Little more was reported until a dramatic 3 a.m. raid last week on houses across Istanbul, in which 40 people were detained.

Of those, Veli Kucuk, a retired major general, was allegedly plotting to kill Pamuk, Turkish newspapers reported. Kucuk is suspected of running a secret unit within police forces that carried out bombings and killings for which other groups were widely blamed. Also arrested was Kemal Kerincsiz, a nationalist lawyer responsible for numerous cases against Pamuk, Dink and other intellectuals. None of the suspects have spoken about the charges.

"If they are true, it suggests there are two parallel universes in Turkey," says Hakan Altinay, director of the Open Society Institute, a think tank. "There are people who wake up every morning and plan murders of political opponents, plot coups and how to destabilize the country," he said.

Most Turks have long suspected the existence of a covert web of elements within the security forces and bureaucracy who act outside the law to uphold their own political ends. There is even a household name for it: the "deep state," referring to a state within the state.

Newspapers have suggested that this network is the Turkish remnant of Gladio, a Cold War-era program, orchestrated by the U.S. in several NATO countries, to create a covert paramilitary force to counter Communist activities.

The arrests are a milestone for Turkey: Kucuk is the first general officer in recent Turkish history to be brought in by police for questioning, newspapers said.

But the audacity and sheer scope of the allegations raises the unsettling question of whether the individuals arrested might just be the tip of the iceberg. "Who gave the orders? Who protected them for this long?" says Altinay. "We are faced with the possibility that this network existed. And, even worse, that it might still exist."