Amid widespread speculation surrounding the execution-style assassination of Sakine Cansız, a top financier for the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Europe, along with two other PKK militants in Paris, the claim that a foreign country might be behind the killings has gained more attention than any other theory explaining the motives for the incident.
The theory was further boosted this week when another high-profile PKK asset who had been procuring weapons for the terrorist organization was killed by sniper-fire in Moscow. The fact that both the Paris and Moscow murders were committed professionally give further credence to claims that an unspecified country is trying to clean up key operatives within the PKK to cover up the footprints of its dirty dealings.
The killings occurred in the middle of a fresh round of talks which the Turkish government has acknowledged it is pursuing with the jailed leader of the PKK in order to pave the way for the disarmament of the organization. It was believed that the killings were aimed at derailing the peace talks launched by Turkey. Analysts say Iran, Russia, France or some other European country may very well fit the suspect profile in these killings even though their intelligence agencies may have contracted the killings to some groups within the PKK.
“This [Cansız’s killing] looks like a hit that was done by the PKK itself. But the hit was ordered by an intelligence organization of an unknown country,” said one security official who requested that his name be withheld because of the sensitivity of the issue.
“If a terrorist organization commits murders in the middle of Europe, it is definitely tied to a state intelligence organization,” he explained in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman.
France is home to the PKK network in Europe and has sheltered high-profile PKK leaders in its territory despite pressure from Turkey in its extradition demands. The French government has simply turned a blind eye to PKK activities of raising funds in the country and allowed PKK operatives to move freely within and beyond its borders.
In a recent interview with Today’s Zaman, Turkish Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin stated that France had not extradited a single PKK suspect sought by Turkey through Interpol Red Notices in the last 20 years. He accused France and other European countries of hiding behind legal excuses so as not to hand over PKK suspects.
Turkish dailies reported this week that French security forces arrested 144 PKK suspects wanted in Turkey for terrorist crimes but have never turned them over. On top of that, some PKK suspects were given political asylum by French authorities. Cansız was allowed to operate a fundraising network for the PKK in Paris under the watch of French security agencies. Despite ongoing legal cases in French courts investigating the PKK’s money exchanges in France, she was not touched.
According to US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2010, Cansız was identified as a PKK financier and a weapons and tactical strategist. In a diplomatic cable sent on Dec. 7, 2007, then-US Ambassador to Turkey Ross Wilson conveyed his recommendations to Washington for redoubling their efforts to shut down the financial support that flows from Europe to the PKK, whose main base is located in northern Iraq.
Wilson wrote: “We should more sharply focus our work with the Europeans. Previous demarches sensitized the EU to PKK criminal activities. Now we need to narrow our focus by identifying and going after the two top targets of Riza Altun and Sakine Cansiz. Given their previous arrests, cases against them have been started. We can help by providing the most extensive dossiers possible and coordinating with law enforcement and intelligence counterparts in Europe to ensure these two terrorists are incarcerated.”
Germany was also an accomplice of France in failing to turn over Cansız to Turkey. When she was arrested in Germany in 2007 pursuant to an Interpol extradition request issued by Turkey, she was let go after a brief detention by German authorities citing insufficient evidence forwarded by the Turkish government. She was allowed to return to France, where she continued to run the financial operations for the terrorist organization.
“On the one hand, you recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization but you have never turned over any suspect linked with the PKK to Turkey. That does not make any sense,” Onur Öymen, a former ambassador, told Sunday’s Zaman, adding that France has a very bad record of dealing with PKK terrorists operating on its soil.
“Though you claim that you are fighting against terrorists in locations as far away as Mali, you don’t do anything to deal with the PKK terrorists in your own country,” he complained about the hypocritical French position on the fight against terrorism.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has lambasted the French government for allowing PKK terrorists to operate in France. “We had sent a notice to French Interpol two months ago [before Cansız’s murder] and informed them that she is in Paris. But France did not take any steps,” he stated last week. Erdoğan also called on French President François Hollande to explain why he had met with one of the three Kurdish militants.
Hollande had said he had known one of the killed Kurdish women and was meeting with her regularly. “How can you routinely meet with members of an organization labeled a terrorist group by the European Union and being sought by Interpol? What kind of politics is this?” Erdoğan asked.
Russia is another suspect
The French intelligence is not only suspect in the high-profile PKK killings. The murder of a Kurdish arms dealer in Moscow, Aslan Usayan, also known as Ded Hasan, who was believed to be a supplier for the PKK, on Wednesday, less than a week after the three PKK militants were killed in an office in Paris, fueled speculations that the Russian spy agency may also be behind these killings.
According to Russian journalist Sergey Kanev, 76-year-old mafia leader Usayan played an important role in the transfer of arms from Russia to the PKK. On the basis of police documents which Kanev claimed to have obtained, another Russian gang leader of Kurdish origin, Zahariy Kalashov, nicknamed Şakro, is the leading player in Russia in the sale of weapons to the PKK. Both Kalashov, who is serving time in a Spanish prison, and Usayan have relations with PKK leaders.
Russia does not recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization despite growing ties with Turkey at a strategic level. Turkey has raised the PKK issue during bilateral talks with Russia in the past but failed to secure a strong commitment from Moscow. Intelligence reports indicate some 80 percent of the arms that the PKK uses are made in Russia. Moscow is by far the largest source of sniper rifles used by the PKK as well as in the supply of anti-tank mines and rocket launchers. Eighty-eight percent of the mines and 85 percent of the launchers used by the PKK were of Russian origin.
This does not, of course, mean that the Russian government is directly providing arms to the PKK because arms dealers may very well be using the black market to supply the PKK through routes cutting across Armenia and Iran. Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, went to Russia twice after leaving Syria in 1999 to seek refuge in the country. There were speculations that a PKK training camp had existed close to the Russian capital during the Cold War. The uncooperative attitude in Moscow against PKK militants in Russia does not help to dispel allegations that Russia may still be involved in supporting the PKK terrorist organization against Turkey.
Bayram Bozyel, the deputy chairman of the pro-Kurdish Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR), told Sunday’s Zaman that there might be clean-up operations going on within the PKK by deep structures now that there is a strong resolve in Turkey to solve this Kurdish problem. “Some might be settling scores within the PKK in order to prevent a fallout from the dirty dealings of the past,” he underlined.
Iran’s dirty dealings with PKK
Bozyel believes that the French authorities will cover up the murders in Paris if the revelations might damage French national interests. Looking at the way these murders happened in a building on busy Rue Lafayette behind the Gare du Nord, one of the main train stations in Paris, there is no doubt that a professional organization is involved in the killings. Analysts point out that both Cansız in Paris and Usayan in Moscow knew too much and were linked to many high-profile people from different governments. They suspect that by taking out these people, the culprits were trying to erase the footprints of shady dealings with the PKK.
Iran is another suspect in the case and was publicly identified as the contractor of the killings by the political wing of the PKK, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). BDP Deputy Chairperson Gülten Kışanak said on Wednesday that Iran might be behind the Paris killings. Recalling that Iranian intelligence had been responsible for some assassinations in Europe in the past, Kışanak said that when the murders are solved, she expects the authorities to shed light on Iran’s role. Ahmet Türk of the BDP also implicated Iran as a suspect in the case earlier.
İbrahim Güçlü, a Kurdish intellectual, emphasized that Iran is strongly against the resolution of the Kurdish problem in Turkey. “Tehran wants to hold on to its PKK card for its efforts to try and destabilize Turkey. I believe that the PKK commanders in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq have a secret agreement with Iran to keep fighting against Turkey,” he explained in an interview with Sunday’s Zaman.
“Iran perfectly fits the suspect profile in the Paris killings because it does not want the new process to be successful in Turkey,” he added. The Turkish government has publicly accused Tehran of sheltering PKK militants and providing the terrorist organization with logistical and financial support.
Of course, there are some other countries that may very well fit the suspect profile. As the talks with the PKK leader continue, any future revelations on the PKK’s links with foreign intelligence networks will shed more light on the dirty dealings of the terrorist organization. And the real culprit in the last two incidents will surely try to eliminate other key PKK members to further cast a cloud on the PKK network. In the meantime, the Turkish government’s negotiations with the PKK will be put to the test time and time again.