ANKARA (Reuters)–Seventeen suspected Islamic militants went on trial before an Ankara court on Monday accused of murdering 22 of Turkey’s leading secularist journalists and liberal thinkers over the last decade.
Prosecutors said the victims included former Culture Minister Ahmet Taner Kislali and investigative reporter Ugur Mumcu–who wrote extensively about the ties between Turkish Islamic militants and Iran. Both men died in car bomb blasts–Kislali in 1999 and Mumcu in 1993.
The accused–said to belong to a small–secretive group called Selam-Tevhid — meaning Hello Unification in Arabic–were also blamed for the bombing murders in 1990 of leftist law professor Muammer Aksoy and academic Bahriye Ucok.
At the time–the government suspected Iranian involvement–but Iran denied any part in the killings.
Prosecutors were expected to seek the death penalty for nine of the defendants accused of carrying out the murders–and lengthy prison terms for the others–accused of plotting them.
The 17 have denied the charges–Anatolian news agency reported. Some said they had been tortured in police custody and forced to sign false confessions. None of the names on the charge sheet were familiar to ordinary Turks.
Anatolian said the defendants denied any connection with Islamic militant group Hizbullah–which is accused of trying to replace Turkey’s secular order with one based on strict Sharia law.
The discovery earlier this year of around 60 bodies–believed to be victims of Hizbullah–shocked the country and led to a clampdown on Islamic militants. That effort included Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s recent decision to sack some 400 civil servants suspected of links with armed Islamic groups.
The authorities view Islamic activism as the number one enemy of Turkey’s secular constitution.
The trial resumes next month.