Two Turkish soldiers admitted in court Thursday they knew of a plot to kill ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink months before the murder happened, Anatolia news agency reported.
The two are the first members of the security forces to stand trial in the Black Sea city of Trabzon, where the murder was planned, amid widespread allegations that some officials condoned the killing.
The investigation is seen as a test for Ankara's resolve to eliminate the "deep state" -- a term used to describe security forces acting outside the law to preserve what they consider Turkey's best interests. The 52-year-old Dink, whom Turkish nationalists hated for calling the World War I massacres of Armenians genocide, was shot dead in central Istanbul on January 19, 2007, outside the offices of Agos, the weekly newspaper he ran.
One of the defendants told the judge Thursday he had been informed of the plot in August 2006 by a relative of its alleged mastermind Yasin Hayal, Anatolia reported. He passed the tip-off to his superiors at the local paramilitary force policing rural areas, but no action was taken, he said.
"We did not do anything afterwards because we were given no instructions or orders," said the defendant, identified only as O.S.
His superiors fabricated documents after the murder to create the impression they had no prior knowledge of the plot, he alleged. He had come under "psychological" pressure to collude and lie to government inspectors who probed the conduct of the security forces, he added.
The other defendant, identified as V.S., agreed with the statement of his colleague.
The two soldiers risk between six months and two years in jail for "abuse of power." The judge decided to ask prosecutors to launch an investigation into the officials the defendants had implicated at Thursday's hearing.
Hayal's uncle has already testified that he informed the two defendants of his nephew's plans to kill Dink, but the pair sought to cover up the issue. The self-confessed hitman, 17-year-old Ogun Samast, went on trial in Istanbul last year, along with Hayal and 17 suspected associates. The trial is still going on.
Lawyers for Dink's family say the police also withheld and destroyed evidence to cover up the murder, including footage from a bank security camera near where Dink was killed. In September, two policemen went on trial in the northern city of Samsun for their role in a scandal that saw security forces posing for pictures with the gunman after he was captured there a day after the murder. This trial is also still in progress.
Dink had impressed many in Turkey with his efforts for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and more than 100,000 people marched at his funeral.
Also Thursday, a court in Istanbul sentenced a man to three years in jail for sending hate mail and death threats to the Agos newspaper after Dink's murder, Anatolia reported. The man reportedly used racist insults and wrote that "we have many other Samasts and Catlis," referring to Dink's assassin and Abdullah Catli, a shadowy figure known as a hitman of the "deep state" who died in a 1996 car accident.