Editor’s Note: This report contains a graphic description of the martyrdom of three Christian men.
Five Turkish Muslims who allegedly admitted slaughtering three Christians during a Bible study in Turkey more than seven years ago have been released from jail pending their trials because of a new national law that forbids extended pretrial detention.
According to court testimony, the suspects allegedly went to the Zirve Publishing House in Malayta, Turkey, on April 18, 2007, and tied up Christians Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske. The victims then were questioned about their Christian activities and brutally tortured.
As police arrived, the Christians’ throats were slit and the suspects fled, testimony said.
The suspects recently were released from detention, however, and now are wearing electronic monitoring devices, according to Morning Star News, an independent service that focuses on persecution of Christians.
The suspects are Emre Gunaydin, Cuma Oxdemir, Hamit Ceker, Salih Curler and Abuzer Yildirim.
Under a reform law signed into effect on March 6 by President Abdullah Gul, suspects can be held before their trial for only five years, not the 10 that previously was allowed.
A verdict in the case had not yet been delivered because, according to the report, of “years of delay tactics by their defense team and possibly others.”
Two of the victims, Aydin and Yuksel, were Turkish converts from Islam. Morning Star News reported Yuksel was engaged to be married. Aydin was married and had two children. Geske was a German national who was married with three children.
It was the stunning words of forgiveness offered by Geske’s wife, Susanne, shortly after the attack that drew international attention to the case.
“Oh God, forgive them for they know not what they do,” she said, quoting the words of Jesus Christ on the cross in Luke 23:34, according to a letter Christians in Turkey wrote at the time to the worldwide church, which was released through Voice of the Martyrs.
“In a country where blood-for-blood revenge is as normal as breathing, many, many reports have come to the attention of the church of how this comment of Susanne [Geske] has changed lives,” the letter said. “One columnist wrote of her comment, ‘She said in one sentence what 1,000 missionaries in 1,000 years could never do.'”
The letter, titled “A letter to the Global Church from The Protestant Church of Smyrna,” was received by VOM shortly after the slayings.
The letter described the work Geske was doing on a new Turkish Study Bible. The morning of his death, he went to the offices of Zirve Publishing, which produces and distributes Christian literature to Malatya and other parts of eastern Turkey, for a Bible study. Pastor Necati Aydin, the father of two, also left for the same office, as did Ugur Yuksel.
“None of these three men knew that what awaited them at the Bible study was the ultimate testing and application of their faith, which would conclude with their entrance into glory to receive their crown of righteousness from Christ,” the letter said.
Also heading to the Bible study were five men thought to be “seekers” who had been guests of Necati at an invitation-only evangelistic service.
“No one knows what happened in the hearts of those men as they listened to the gospel. Were they touched by the Holy Spirit? Were they convicted of sin? Did they hear the gospel in their heart of hearts? Today we only have the beginning of their story,” the letter said.
“The young men got guns, bread knives, ropes and towels ready for their final act of service to Allah. They knew there would be a lot of blood. They arrived in time for the Bible study, around 10 o’clock,” the letter said. “Reportedly, after Necati read a chapter from the Bible the assault began. The boys tied Ugur, Necati, and Tilman’s hands and feet to chairs and as they videoed their work on their cellphones, they tortured our brothers for almost three hours.”
The letter included graphic details of the torture.
“Tilman was stabbed 156 times, Necati 99 times and Ugur’s stabs were too numerous to count. They were disemboweled, and their intestines sliced up in front of their eyes. They were emasculated and watched as those body parts were destroyed. Fingers were chopped off, their noses and mouths and anuses were sliced open. Possibly the worst part was watching as their brothers were likewise tortured. Finally, their throats were sliced from ear to ear, heads practically decapitated.”
The letter released by Voice of the Martyrs said neighbors thought the noise was a domestic argument, so they did not respond.
Police were summoned by another Christian who arrived at the office and couldn’t get in.
When officers entered, they found: “Tilman and Necati had been slaughtered, practically decapitated with their necks slit from ear to ear. Ugur’s throat was likewise slit and he was barely alive.”
Later, Susanne Geske expressed her forgiveness in a television interview that was reported on front pages across Turkey.
Morning Star News noted she had been distressed by the release of the suspects in her husband’s death.
But Umut Sahin, general secretary for the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey, said she acquired a peace with what was happening because of the requirement they wear the monitoring devices.
“At least one of the young men continues to verbally threaten the lawyers and families of the victims. If he had been free to go wherever he wanted, she would naturally be worried,” Sahin said.
Another hearing in the case isn’t expected until April, and Morning Star News reported there was concern the suspects would flee.
The agency reported: “When interrogated, the five accused men said they attacked the Christians because they were defending their country and religion, Islam, according to court records. From the outset, there was suspicion that the men, all 19 or 20 at the time, committed the acts under the guidance of others. Günaydın testified in court that ultranationalist writer Varol Bülent Aral told him that the publishing house was connected with Kurdish terrorists and convinced him to commit the attack to defend ‘the motherland.'”
There have been multiple delays, including claims by witnesses that the plot was intended to discredit the national government, prompting a new line of investigation. Some witnesses also have declined to testify, and other witnesses were in government custody when they were supposed to appear.
“There are three main reasons this trial has taken so long,” Sahin told Morning Star News. “The committee of judges overseeing the case has been changed two to three times. Each time it is changed, the new set of judges have to familiarize themselves with the case. Suspects and witnesses who were in the military could not be questioned until years into the case … The defending lawyers have used all kinds of legal tactics to draw out the trial, but we are not aware of any intentional efforts by other bodies to delay the trial.”