Strong evidence previously indicated collusion among police and military officers in the assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, and a letter from an inmate who claims he was hired by intelligence units as a hitman could mean that a cover-up of the real masterminds behind the murder is no longer possible.
The secret witness emerged unexpectedly when he wrote to prosecutors earlier this year saying he had detailed information on the background of the 2007 murder of Dink, who was the editor-in-chief of the Agos weekly at the time. He said he is willing to share everything he knows about the network behind the murder in return for witness protection. It has been confirmed that the writer of the letter, identified as M.A., is an inmate at Tokat Prison, serving time on a homicide conviction. The man says he will testify in court in exchange for protection for himself and his family and claims to have worked for JİTEM, an illegal organization that was established within the gendarmerie in the 1990s to fight terrorism but employed illegal and often brutal methods.
The Radikal daily acquired a copy of the five-page letter M.A. sent to the prosecutor investigating the Dink murder. He also claims that the gun he used in the murder for which he was convicted and the gun used to kill Dink were made by the same gunsmith. The witness says he was part of the team that planned Dink's murder in detail.
Both Radikal and other reporters have also stated that M.A. recently testified to the prosecutor investigating the Dink murder and has given him the names of individuals involved, which include military officers as well as civilians.
The man wrote in his letter that he was sent to Trabzon by two high-ranking military officers of the 1st Army in 2006 where he met through his contacts in the state Erhan Tuncel, a prime suspect in the Dink trial. He was acquitted of all murder changes, but the Supreme Court of Appeals is currently reviewing the final verdict in the trial, which only convicted Ogün Samast, the hitman, and another suspect, Yasin Hayal in relation to the assassination.
The secret witness said he and Tuncel when to Büyükada, an island off the coast of İstanbul, where they studied the area in preparation of an assassination of the priest of the St. George Church on the island. He wrote: “We surveyed the area; we took pictures. We reviewed the places on the island where we could run after the assault. Erhan said we should do this on Apr. 23 or Oct. 29, and said it would be to easy to run because the church congregation would be there on those dates, and it would be crowded.”
An important detail in the letter is information given by Erhan Tuncel regarding the 2006 murder of Father Santoro, a Catholic priest. According to the secret witness, in response to a question he had asked regarding the murder of Santoro in Trabzon, Tuncel said, “Yes, we were the ones who put him in the ground, too.”
The witness also wrote in the letter that Erhan Tuncel always had with him a briefcase filled with files. One of the files contained a picture of Akın Birdal, a former head of the Human Rights Association (İHD) and currently a Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy who, in 1998, survived an assassination attempt during which he sustained eight bullet wounds.
Radikal also printed scanned excerpts from the letter that said state intelligence officers -- without specifying whether they were of the gendarmerie or police department -- had planned the Dink assassination. “Erhan and I were going to carry out the Dink murder. Three intelligence officers were going to be on watch. At the time, I was doing intelligence work for the gendarmerie. After the assassination, the intelligence men were going to take Erhan and I first to Artvin [in Turkey], then to Georgia and then to Russia. They were going to destroy all crime scene evidence, from traceable phone calls to security camera recordings. The purpose of the assassination was to send a message to minorities and the enemies of Turks who benefit from the opportunities of this country but harm the Republic of Turkey.”
While the lawyers representing the Dink family say the information the new witness has is extremely important, they also note that they do not want to comment in detail out of fear something could happen to him before he tells all that he knows.
Dink family lawyer Fethiye Çetin was quoted by the Star daily on Thursday as saying she believes the information to be learned from the unnamed witness will change the course of the Dink murder investigation but also noted that she and the other lawyers do not want the witness to receive wide press coverage in order to ensure his safety.
Secret witnesses in other trials have understandably changed their testimonies later due to intimidation, as in the case of the Cizre murders trial in which colonel stands accused of establishing a death squad within the gendarmerie.