Police foil Islamic militant plot to assassinate rector

June 25, 1999

Istanbul

Turkish police have foiled a plan to assassinate the rector of the Inonu University. Police arrested 24 people and seized a large amount of arms, including pump-action shot-guns, rifles and what authorities claimed were incriminating documents.

According to a security official, those arrested belong to the radical Islamic group Hizbollah (which has no connection with the Lebanese-based group), who they claim were planning to kill 68-year-old Omer Sartak. Hizbollah members have in the past carried out numerous political killings in Turkey.

Professor Sartak became a target for Islamic groups because of his opposition to the wearing of headscarves at the university.

He told The THES his opposition will not waver. "What must I do? I will continue to walk my way; I will follow the way of my government and the courts. It is their decision (Islamic groups) - if they want to kill me, there is nothing I can do," he said.

Professor Sartak, a retired major general, already has several police bodyguards. He said that he has no intention of increasing security.

The university, in the southern city of Malatya, has witnessed some of the worst violence over the ongoing headscarf ban. Last month saw running battles between Islamic protesters and the authorities. Numerous people were reported to have been injured during the protests.

Professor Sartak accused "agents provocateurs" of being behind the clashes. "The trouble is not coming from students, but from Islamic foundations in the city. They are deliberately trying to stir up trouble. " A heavy police presence surrounds the university. But those arrested in connection with the alleged assassination attempt include four policemen and a former petty officer.

Last year, Turkey's ruling authority for universities re-introduced a ban on the wearing of headscarves by female students, as part of a wider policy by the state to curb the Islamic movement. The ban provoked nationwide protests by Islamic students.

The two senior partners in Turkey's new coalition government are deeply divided over the headscarves issue. The extreme-right National Action Party has been calling for an easing of the ban, but prime minister Bulent Ecevit's Democratic Left party remains strongly opposed.

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