By Emma Ross-Thomas, Reuters
Turkish police were warned a year ago about a plot to kill Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, media said on Tuesday, the latest suggestion authorities could have prevented a murder that has shocked the nation.
A 17-year-old unemployed youth shot Dink dead in broad daylight outside his office in Istanbul on January 19. Some 100,000 mourners poured on to the streets for his funeral to protest at the militant nationalism which apparently motivated his killer.
"There has been a tip-off that a man called Yasin Hayal, who lives in Trabzon, has said he will come to Istanbul and kill Hrant Dink," the Sabah daily quoted a letter, sent from Trabzon to Ankara's police intelligence HQ in February 2006, as saying.
The main suspects in the Dink case, including Hayal and the gunman, all come from the Black Sea province of Trabzon. The government has dismissed Trabzon's governor and police chief and sent two inspectors to probe whether authorities were at fault.
A national police spokesman on Tuesday could not confirm the Sabah report, which was also carried by other newspapers. "I can't say whether it is true or false. We are waiting for the report from the two investigators sent to Trabzon," spokesman Ismail Caliskan told Reuters.
Sabah and another newspaper, Milliyet, said one of the suspects charged in connection with the murder was an informer who had told police Hayal was planning to murder Dink. Hayal has admitted to inciting the confessed killer, Ogun Samast.
The Trabzon police sent their letter to Ankara in the same month as another murder in their town highlighting the dangers of intolerance among disaffected youth. A 16-year-old boy shot dead an Italian Catholic priest as he prayed in his church in Trabzon in February 2006. Turkish media say he was influenced by Islamist and ultra nationalist ideas.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying on Tuesday that Turkey had paid a heavy price for not cracking down on what he called the "deep state" -- code for ultra-nationalist elements in the powerful security forces and bureaucracy ready to take the law into their own hands if need be. Local media linked Erdogan's comments to the Dink probe.
NTV television reported on Tuesday police had detained three more people over the murder, bringing the total to five. They have already charged six people with the killing.
Dink, 52, had been a hate figure for ultra-nationalists because he had urged Turks to acknowledge the mass killing of Armenians on Turkish soil in 1915, still a highly sensitive issue in this European Union candidate country.