Christian Slayings Probe Leads to 12 Arrests in Turkey

Twelve suspects have been detained by Turkish police as investigations continue into the slaying of three men last week in a Christian publishing house that distributes Bibles in Turkey.

The girlfriend of one of the 11 suspects was arrested in Istanbul Saturday bringing the total number to 12 people believed to be connected to the killing of the three victims, reported The Associated Press.

Last Wednesday, one German and two Turkish Christians were bound hand and legs before having their throats slit in the southeastern city of Malatya.

The town of Malatya is the hotbed of Turkish nationalism and is the hometown of Mehmet Ali Agca, the gunman who tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981.

Two of the victims, Necati Aydin, 36, and Tilmann Geske, 46, were already dead upon police arrival. The third, Ugur Yuksel, 32, died in the hospital due to profuse blood lost.

Aydin and Yuksel were both Muslim converts to Christianity making them the first known martyrdom of Turkish converts from Islam since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, according to persecution watchdog Compass Direct News.

The Zirve Publishing House general manager said his employees had recently received threats but he could not identify who made them, according to CNN-Turk television. Furthermore, Dogan news agency reported, the publishing house was the target of previous protests by nationalists who accuse it of proselytizing.

Some of the suspects told investigators that they killed the Christian men to protect Islam.

"We didn't do this for ourselves, but for our religion," Turkish newspaper Hurriyet quoted a suspect as saying, according to AP. "Our religion is being destroyed. Let this be a lesson to enemies of our religion."

The deaths of the three Christian men were the latest in politically secular Turkey where over 99 percent of 71 million citizens are Muslim.

Last year, Turkish youths killed an Italian Roman Catholic priest while he prayed in a church in Trabzon, and earlier this year a gunman killed prominent Armenian Christian editor Hrant Dink in Istanbul.

All of last week's victims worked in Zirve Publishing House and attended the same local 30-member Kurtulus Protestant Church pastored by victim Aydin, according Compass Direct News.

Aydin and Geske were each married and had two children while Yuksel was engaged to be married within a few months, according to Compass.

Last Friday, the World Evangelical Alliance sent Johan Candelin of Finland to Turkey as its representative to provide spiritual support to the families of the three deceased.

"We condemn this act of violence against Turkish Christians. We must find a way of resolving conflict without resorting to these kinds of brutal acts," said Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director of the WEA, in a statement last week.

The WEA is composed of 127 national evangelical alliances and represents 420 million evangelical Christians worldwide.

"It is incumbent upon government, community and faith leaders to help create a climate of mutual respect that builds understanding and reconciliation," declared Tunnicliffe. "Today, we grieve for the loss of our brothers and we stand in solidarity, prayer and support for Christians in Turkey."