The identities of the middlemen linking the attackers and the alleged masterminds in the murder of three Christians in Malatya, Turkey are expected to take clearer focus following the latest hearing.
"These five troubled youths didn't wake up one morning and decide to commit a murder - there were others directing them," Ozkan Yucel, plaintiff attorney representing the families of the victims, told the Turkish press last week, before Friday's hearing at the Malatya Third Criminal Court in southeastern Turkey.
Two Turkish Christians, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, and a German, Tilmann Geske, were tied up and stabbed to death at Zirve Publishing Co. offices on April 18, 2007. The last several hearings of the trial have supported suspicions that others were involved in the murder besides the five youths suspected of carrying out the attack. More difficult, however, is determining the scope of the murders and the organization of its conspirators.
Plaintiff attorneys have called in a heavy slate of witnesses for the next hearing, ranging from a gendarmerie commander to an Islamic theology instructor at a nearby university. Mehmet Ulger, the former gendarmerie commander of the province, and Ruhi Abat, a theology instructor at the local Inonu University, are among the 10 people expected to testify at the April 13 hearing.
According to the Radikal daily newspaper, an anonymous letter sent to Turkish churches and obtained by the media claimed Ulger acted as an instigator to the murders and directed Abat to prepare arguments against missionary activity. The letter also implicates local politician Ruhi Polat, a member of the ultra-nationalist National People's Party and a friend of the father of alleged ringleader Emre Gunaydin.
Plaintiff attorney Hafize Cobanoglu told Compass the anonymous letter played a part in the selection of Abat and Polat as witnesses.
"In this sense, paying heed to all these people is important," she said. "However, I don't believe they will say much when they testify."
The call for new witnesses came two weeks after the arrest of two men suspected of acting as liaisons between the five suspects and the alleged "deep-state" masterminds of the attack.
Varol Bulent Aral, a journalist attached to a far-reaching political conspiracy known as Ergenekon, and Huseyin Yelki, a church-going, former volunteer at Zirve, were taken into custody earlier this month.
Aral, 32, has attempted to deflect blame for instigating the youths to commit the murders. He recently told a public prosecutor that the true force behind the killings was a gendarmerie intelligence unit established in the '80s to counter Kurdish sectarian violence in the country's southeast.
He claimed to have been approached by a member of the intelligence unit who sought his assistance. Aral said the member told him the unit would focus on three issues: missionary activity, Alevi-Sunni relations, and the Turkish-Kurd issue.
Aral claimed to have seen Gunaydin become involved with this unit, according to the daily Milliyet.
Recent court hearings, however, have produced substantial evidence that the true masterminds of the murder were members of Ergenekon, a clandestine nationalist group that sought to overthrow the current government by engineering domestic chaos.
Yelki, 34, has lived in the southern city of Adana for the nearly two years since the murder. He has had a rocky history with the leadership of Turkey's small Protestant church, which he accused of abandoning him during difficult financial times in a series of defamatory e-mails.
He volunteered for six months at Zirve, site of the brutal torture and murder of the three Christians.
Gunaydin, the suspected ringleader of the youths accused of murder - including Salih Gurler, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker, and Abuzer Yildirim - has claimed in previous hearings that he was offered promises of state support for killing the Christians.
In the course of Friday's brief hearing, Ugur Yuksel's mother, Hatice Yuksel, stood up and loudly asserted that Gunaydin had threatened her. She did not specify the nature of these threats, and court officials told her to be silent.
The next hearing for the trial is scheduled for April 13, four days before the second anniversary of the murders. Many attorneys believe the case will be fully integrated with the Ergenekon case in the upcoming months.