Turkish police foil plot to kill priest in Antalya

January 01, 2008, Tuesday/ 18:04:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN
Police intelligence sources in Antalya have led to the capture and arrest of military service-evader Murat T., who was reportedly planning to assassinate a priest in Antalya's historical Kaleiçi neighborhood.Murat, 25, is also a suspect in 5 car fires last October in Alanya and was captured by Antalya Police before he was able to kill 30-year-old priest Ramazan Arkan of the St. Pavlus Church. Unaware that police were following his moves, Murat apparently made two separate trips to the church earlier in the week to scope out the surroundings. The raid on Murat's home came on Sunday night with members of the Antalya anti-terror forces capturing the young man and putting him under arrest. The 25 year old was later transferred to the anti-terror base in Calli for questioning. The suspect told police he had been influenced by the television serial "The Valley of the Wolves," popular among Turkish ultra-nationalists, the paper said.

The weapon Murat had planned to use in the assassination was not found by security forces, though sketches of St. Pavlus Church's floor plans were found in the young man's home. During initial questioning, Murat -- who is himself a military service evader and has been involved in multiple other crimes -- reportedly admitted his plans to kill the priest. In the meantime, police have also questioned priest Ramazan, who converted to Christianity 10 years ago and who is from Sivas. A wide scale investigation into the narrowly avoided assassination is ongoing in Antalya.

Priest Ramazan Arkan answered questions for members of the press after the plot to kill him was foiled. The priest said that he did not know his would-be murderer, but noted that he had received calls from him twice in the last 15 days asking for an appointment to supposedly ask the priest questions about Christianity.

"When he came last Monday, I was at a meeting. Some friends from the church told him that I could see him in an hour. He insisted on waiting in the garden and when our friends wanted to frisk him, he suddenly left, saying he would come back later. The Antalya Police Department is so sensitive; they are very concerned about us and make big efforts to prevent any attack that could be directed against us," Ramazan said.

Murat T. has been handed over to the Antalya Central Command for the evasion of his military service for the past five years.

Two weeks ago, an Italian Catholic priest was stabbed at his church in the port city of İzmir in western Turkey by a youth. The priest, Adriano Franchini, survived the attack. In April, assailants slit the throats of three Christians -- a German national and two Turks -- at a Bible publishing house in the eastern town of Malatya. Last year, Italian Catholic priest Andrea Santoro was shot dead in his church in the Turkish Black Sea city of Trabzon.

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