3 Bible-Sellers Slain in Turkey In Latest Attack on Christians

By Benjamin Harvey
Associated Press
Thursday, April 19, 2007

ISTANBUL, April 18 -- Assailants on Wednesday slit the throats of three employees of a publishing house that distributes Bibles, the latest in a series of attacks targeting Turkey's small Christian minority.

The attack added to concerns in Europe about whether the predominantly Muslim country -- which is bidding for membership in the European Union -- can protect its religious minorities.

The three victims, a German and two Turks, were found with their hands and legs bound at the Zirve publishing house in the southeastern city of Malatya.

Police detained four men, ages 19 to 20, and a fifth suspect was hospitalized after jumping out of a window in an attempt to escape arrest, authorities said. All five were carrying a letter that read: "We five are brothers. We are going to our deaths," according to the state-run Anatolia news agency.

"This is savagery," said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The assault was the latest in a string of attacks on Turkey's Christian community, which makes up less than 1 percent of the population.

In February 2006, a Turkish teenager shot a Roman Catholic priest to death as he prayed in his church, and two other priests were attacked later that year. Early this year, a suspected nationalist killed Armenian Christian editor Hrant Dink.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat party, which opposes Muslim Turkey's membership in the European Union, said Wednesday's attack showed the country's shortcomings protecting religious freedom.

"The Turkish state is still far from the freedom of religion that marks Europe. It is the task of the Turkish government to guarantee this freedom of religion," the party's general secretary, Ronald Pofalla, said in a statement.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company