Islamic groups linked to killing

January 3, 2003

Turkish president Ahmet Necdet Sezer has linked the assassination of a history lecturer at the University of Ankara to the academic's research into radical Islamic groups.

Assistant professor Necip Hablemitoglu was gunned down before Christmas by unknown assailants in front of his home as he walked to his car. He taught Turkish revolutionary history and was regarded as a staunch advocate of the country's secular state.

The president said: "This is obviously an act of terror. I think this is a political crime." He added: "I hope this is not the beginning of bad days."

In the 1990s Turkey was rocked by a series of political killings of well-known supporters of the secular state. Many of the victims were academics.

The killings ended with the break-up of Hizbollah, a radical Islamic group based in Turkey with no connection to the Lebanese-based group of the same name.

Ankara's senate echoed the president's comments. "Our biggest wish is that this loathsome attack is not the beginning of a new dark period."

Professor Hablemitoglu had written extensively on radical Islamic groups - a particular focus was a controversial religious order accused of wanting to end the secular state. Much of his research centred on the group's infiltration of Turkey's security forces.

Tensions are high following November's victory by the Islamic-rooted AK party. Prime minister Abdullah Gul was quick to try to calm the situation. "I will use all my authority to find those responsible for this terrible crime," he said.

Kemal Guruz, head of the higher education authority, told The THES : "This is terrible, but we are determined to do everything to prevent this terrible terrorist act, which damages the atmosphere of academic freedom on our campuses."

He added: "We must all work together. I totally oppose our government, but we must come together to stop such terrible acts.

"I am sure there are people who are scared. But we must be strong to overcome this. I am sure that the people of this country will not allow Turkey to slip back into the past."

There had been no arrests as The THES went to press. The police said that they were keeping an open mind over the killing. They disclosed, however, that Professor Hablemitoglu had received a series of threatening emails accusing him of being a heretic.

Professor Hablemitoglu's home has become an impromptu shrine. Colleagues and students have left hundreds of flowers and candles along with notes of remembrance. Professor Hablemitoglu's funeral was attended by the prime minister.

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