Turkey: Police Arrest Suspect Plotting to Kill Pastor

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Ultranationalist TV series again cited for inspiring targeting of Christians.

ISTANBUL (Compass Direct News) -- Turkish police authorities over the weekend arrested a young suspect allegedly plotting to assassinate a Christian pastor in Antalya during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Pastor Ramazan Arkan, 30, has been under armed police protection since December 25, when Antalya’s anti-terrorism police bureau without explanation ordered two plainclothes guards to accompany him everywhere.

Detained on Saturday night (December 29) in the coastal resort city, 22-year-old Murat Tabuk reportedly admitted under police interrogation that the popular ultra-nationalist Turkish TV serial “Valley of the Wolves” had inspired him to plan Arkan’s murder. It is the second time in less than a month that the television series has been cited as inspiring violence against Christians.

Floor plans of the St. Paul Center, where Turkish and English-language congregations meet for Christian worship in Antalya’s historic Kaleici district, were found in Tabuk’s possession at the time of his arrest.

Monitored over a court-ordered telephone tap, the suspect also had told a friend, “I need a gun.” No weapon was found at the time of Tabuk’s detention.

Arkan confirmed that twice in the past 15 days a young man he had never met, identifying himself as Murat, had telephoned him saying he wanted to talk with the pastor about Christianity.

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t meet with him,” Arkan told Hurriyet newspaper, “but because I was very busy we had no chance to meet.” He said the man called him on his telephone number listed on the church’s website.

When the caller telephoned a second time, on December 24, Arkan invited him to come to the St. Paul Center to meet with him.

But when Tabuk arrived at the church, he learned that Arkan was in a meeting for another hour. Although the suspect wanted to wait in the garden, he refused to be frisked by security guards and left the premises.

Arkan told Compass that the anti-terrorism bureau police chief called him in the next day, December 25, and informed him that he would be provided with two police guards for “extra protection” during the church’s Christmas and New Year celebrations.

“We didn’t know that there was any particular plot or specific person under suspicion until Sunday (December 30), when the anti-terrorism police bureau chief called me in to see if I could identify this suspect,” Arkan said.

The pastor commended local police for their handling of the situation, remarking, “They work very carefully to prevent any kind of attack that could come against us.” His church has been under regular police guard since late August, after a series of incidents disrupted worship services and other church activities.

Arkan’s congregation held a large Christmas celebration without incident this year in Antalya’s Kislahan Hotel, attended by 250 people.

Tabuk was brought to court on Monday (December 31) and sent to the Antalya Central Command, pending a military court trial for desertion. He was also wanted by the police on criminal charges, after being caught on security cameras setting cars afire in Alanya in October.

From Kayseri, Tabuk’s father Hasan Tabuk told the Turkish media that his son had lost his mental balance in a car accident two years ago. “My son is someone who is naïve and can be easily deceived,” the father said.

At least two other people have been detained for questioning on the case, including Tabuk’s former employer, whom the suspect told police had paid him 500 Turkish lira (US$430) to set afire five cars in Alanya. It was not clear whether this accomplice, identified only as Mehmet D., was involved in the plot to murder Arkan, but he was ordered jailed yesterday at the Alanya L-Style Closed Prison.

Offensive TV Series

According to an NTV report on New Year’s Day, Tabuk confessed during police interrogations that he was planning to kill Arkan to get money, just as was occurring on the popular TV series, “Valley of the Wolves.”

A 19-year-old Muslim youth who stabbed an Italian priest in the stomach on December 16 reportedly admitted in his statement to police that he also had been influenced by an episode of “Valley of the Wolves.” Father Adriano Franchini, 65, was hospitalized overnight in the Aegean city of Izmir and released.

Together with 20 other Protestant church leaders, Arkan had signed a formal complaint filed with the Istanbul State Prosecutor’s office on December 3, protesting against Show TV’s weekly “Valley of the Wolves” for offending Christians by “presenting them as a terrorist group and broadcasting scenes making them an open target.”

The series has portrayed Christians as selling body parts, being involved in mafia activities and prostitution and working as enemies of society in order to spread the Christian faith.

“The result has been innumerable, direct threats, attacks against places of worship and eventually, the live slaughter of three innocent Christians in Malatya,” the complaint stated.

The Protestant leaders demanded that Show TV and the producers of “Valley of the Wolves” be prosecuted under sections 115, 214, 215, 216 and 288 of the Turkish penal code for spreading false information and inciting violence against Christians.

“We are Turks, Turkish citizens, but our faith is Christian,” Arkan told NTV in a January 1 interview. “We want to live out this faith in this country in the best possible way.”

A former Muslim from Sivas who converted to Christianity 11 years ago, Arkan has been on the pastoral leadership team of the Antalya New Testament Church for the past eight years. He is now head pastor of the congregation, which averages 75 in weekly worship services.

“I’m not afraid, but I do have some anxieties, of course,” Arkan told Compass today. “We have come to the point of being a target. That is uncomfortable, but we will see how this affects us all.”

Copyright © 2008 Compass Direct