ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish police have detained 10 people in connection with the killing of three people, including a German, at a Bible publishing house in the mainly Muslim country, authorities said on Thursday.
The three were found on Wednesday with their throats slit at the Zirve publishing house in Malatya, a city in the southeast of the country.
Voicing shock across the country at the latest attack on Turkey’s small Christian minority, a headline in the Milliyet daily said: “The nightmare continues.”
It linked the new attack with the murders of Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink in January and an Italian priest last year.
Malatya Governor Halil Ibrahim Dasoz told reporters the number of people in custody had risen to 10 and that all were from the same age group. He gave no further details.
The first five suspects, detained at the crime scene on Wednesday, were 19 and 20-year-old students who lived in the same hostel run by an Islamic foundation, newspapers said.
They said the youths carried notes in their pockets saying: “We are brothers. We are going to our death”. They reportedly told police they carried out the killing for the “homeland”.
Turkish Christians voiced distress over the killings, saying distrust of Christianity was being stirred up in Turkey where there are just 100,000 Christians in a population of 74 million.
“It was a disgusting, savage incident. I link it to comments made by party leaders... feeding people with comments like ‘there are missionaries everywhere’,” Pastor Behnan Konutgan said by telephone from Malatya where he was visiting relatives of the victims. He dined with the victims just two weeks ago.
One of the victims, Ugur Yuksel, was buried according to Muslim rites on Thursday in a village near Elazig in eastern Turkey. Newspapers described the other victim, Necati Aydin, as the head of the tiny Christian community in Malatya.
The killings came as political tensions rise between Turkey’s powerful secular elite, including army generals and judges, and the religious-minded AK Party government over next month’s presidential elections.
A wave of nationalism has swept the secular but predominantly Sunni Muslim country over the past year.
For many nationalists, missionaries are enemies of Turkey working to undermine its political and religious institutions. Hardline Islamists have also targeted Christian missionaries in Turkey, which is seeking European Union membership.
Joost Lagendijk of the European Parliament’s Turkey delegation, visiting the nearby southeastern city of Diyarbakir, said the killings would send a negative message to Europe and that there was paranoia about missionaries in Turkey.
In Diyarbakir, there was growing concern in the 50-strong Protestant community, whose church was damaged in an arson attack three years ago.
“We have not been threatened as yet but as Christians in Turkey we are subject to pressure psychologically and from the media and after this incident we are more uneasy,” said Ali Is, who works in the Diyarbakir church.
Additional reporting by Seyhmus Cakan in Diyarbakir and Paul De Bendern in Ankara