By Benjamin Harvey, Associated Press
A nationalist militant convicted in a 2004 bomb attack at a McDonald's restaurant has confessed to inciting last week's slaying of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, police in Turkey said Monday.
Yasin Hayal told police officers he provided a gun and money to the teenager who is suspected of carrying out Friday's shooting, a newspaper reported, citing police records. The teenager, Ogun Samast, was also arrested over the weekend along with several other people and has confessed to fatally shooting the journalist, according to a chief prosecutor.
During police questioning, Hayal, told investigators: "I gave him the gun and the money. Ogun fulfilled his duty and saved the honor of Turkey," the Hurriyet newspaper reported.
Police confirmed the confession, but gave no details. If accurate, Hayal's reported statements to police would be a strong indication that the slain journalist, Hrant Dink, was targeted because of his public statements on the mass killings of Armenians by Turks in the early 20th century, one of the nation's most sensitive and divisive issues.
Dink, the 52-year-old editor of the Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, had made public his view that the killings amounted to genocide. Nationalists consider such statements an insult to Turkey's honor and a threat to its unity, and Dink had been showered with insults and death threats.
Dink was gunned down outside his newspaper's office in Istanbul on Friday - a killing that has drawn attention to the precarious state of freedom of expression in a country vying for European Union membership. Police took Samast, who is 16 or 17, to the crime scene late Sunday and prosecutors asked him to describe how he killed Dink, the Anatolia news agency reported on Monday. A small crowd of onlookers shouted at the suspect, "We're all Hrants. We're all Armenians!"
If he was killed for his views, as many here believe, the slaying would also highlight the continued threat from right-wing extremists seeking to punish those they deem to be traitors.
Hayal has allegedly trained a handful of teenagers on arms in the Black Sea city of Trabzon, indoctrinating them with the idea of punishing traitors, Hurriyet said. Hayal was convicted in the bombing of a McDonald's restaurant in Trabzon in 2004 that injured six people. Hayal was released after serving more than 10 months in prison for the attack. The motives behind that attack remain unclear.
At the time, police could not establish a link between Hayal and any underground groups. Hayal had said that he learned how to make bombs from Chechen militants in a camp in Azerbaijan and told police he attacked the McDonald's restaurant "to punish the United States and its collaborators."
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that the swift arrest of the teenager was "a lesson to those who want to shoot at freedoms" in Turkey. He promised a thorough investigation and, without naming them outright, appeared to blame the slaying on nationalist groups, which he said were intent on turning Turkey into an insular country, cut off from the rest of the world.
"I cannot think of anything worse for Turkey. Those people ... can never call themselves patriots. Our people will never forgive them," Erdogan said.
Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener told CNN-Turk television on Monday that "Turkey should be proud of intellectuals who do not think like the state. All institutions from politicians to the judiciary should protect them. Turkey should not be a country where its intellectuals are killed for having different views."
Police captured Samast in the Black Sea city of Samsun late on Saturday after a tip from his father following the broadcast of pictures on Turkish television. A photograph taken by a security camera two blocks from the scene of Dink's shooting had been broadcast across Turkey, and allegedly showed the suspect carrying a gun and running from the scene.
Samsun's chief prosecutor, Ahmet Cokcinar, told The Associated Press that the teenager had confessed to killing Dink during initial questioning in the city, but refused to give further details. The private news agency Dogan, and its sister company, CNN-Turk television, said the teenager had told the prosecutor he had shot Dink because the journalist had allegedly insulted Turks in opinions posted on the Internet. But neither news organization said how it got its information.
Turkey's relationship with its Armenian minority has long been haunted by a bloody past. Much of its once-influential Armenian population was killed or driven out beginning around 1915 in what an increasing number of nations are calling the first genocide of the 20th century.
Turkey acknowledges that large numbers of Armenians died but vehemently denies it was genocide, saying the overall figure is inflated and the deaths occurred in the civil unrest during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
Nobel prize winning novelist Orhan Pamuk visited Dink's newspaper on Sunday and blamed the slaying on defenders of Turkey's Article 301, a law that makes it a crime to insult Turkey, its government or national character by, for example, expressing opinions on the Armenian deaths.
Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser and Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara contributed to this report.
(Photo by Istanbul police: In this handout video grab released by Turkish police Samast is pictured in Istanbul on Friday moments before he reportedly shot dead Dink.)