PARIS — Three Kurdish activists, including reportedly one of the founding members of a militant separatist group, were shot dead in what authorities called an “execution” in central Paris. The slayings prompted speculation that the long-running conflict between insurgents from the minority group and Turkey was playing out on French shores.
The slayings came as Turkey was holding peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which seeks self-rule for Kurds in the country’s southeast, to try to persuade it to disarm. The conflict between the group, known as the PKK, and the Turkish government has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a news conference in Senegal on Thursday that his country was determined to press ahead with the talks despite the events in Paris, which he suggested could be the result of internal strife or an act to sabotage the talks. The PKK has a history of internal killings. But many Kurdish activists and militants were also victims of extrajudicial killings blamed on Turkish government forces in the 1990s.
Initial reports were contradictory but all described a grisly crime scene at the Kurdistan Information Center. One Kurdish organization said the door of the building where the women were found was smeared with blood, that two of the women were shot in the neck and one in the stomach and that the killer used a silencer. French radio reported that all three were shot in the head.
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The killings set off a round of accusations, with each side accusing the other of being behind the deaths. Police tried to contain hundreds of Kurds who flocked to the building in eastern Paris where the bodies were found Thursday, many blaming Turkey and calling the deaths a “political assassination.”
It was not clear if any of the women were currently members of the PKK, which Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union consider a terrorist organization. President François Hollande said he and several politicians knew one of the women professionally. He did not say which one.
Turkey’s Anadolu news agency identified one victim as Sakine Cansiz, a founding member of the PKK in her 50s.
The Paris prosecutors’ office confirmed that the other two victims were Leyla Soylemez and Fidan Dogan, both in their 20s. A news agency linked to the PKK, Firat news, said Dogan was the Paris representative of the Kurdistan National Congress. It said she became a Kurdish rights activist in 1999.
The slayings are being investigated by France’s anti-terrorism police.
Emotions mounted as Kurds flocked to the center where the bodies were found. Police erected barricades to try to contain the crowd of several hundred. The crowd waved Kurdish flags and chanted angrily against the Turkish government.
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who visited the Kurdistan Information Center, said the deaths were “without doubt an execution.” He called it a “totally intolerable act.”
Paris has long been a home to exiled opposition movements — often from countries that used to be part of France’s colonial empire — and has been a killing ground for some of them. But it’s been years since such an assassination has unfolded in France.
Kurdish leaders who gathered Thursday accused France of working against the Kurdish cause.
“I, too, want France to ask the question: ‘Why Paris?’ ” asked Songul Karabulut, who heads the foreign-relations committee of the Kurdistan National Congress. “Without accusing France, in the last few years, the country that has most repressed the rights of Kurds has been France.”
Kurds are scattered over four countries — Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq — where they enjoy varying levels of freedom.More than 150,000 Kurds and people of Kurdish descent live in France, according to one study.