While the French authorities have arrested a 69-year-old man as the suspect in an armed attack against a Kurdish cultural centre in Paris on Friday 23 December, many Kurds living in France and elsewhere have suspicions regarding the gunman’s involvement, accusing the French government of trying to cover up a possible Turkish role in the incident.
Kurds have a number of reasons for doubting the French authorities’ statements about the incident that left one woman and two men dead:
1) The 2013 Paris attack
In January 2013, a Turkish gunman attacked a Kurdish information centre in Paris and killed three Kurdish female activists, including Sakine Cansız, one of the founders of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). That incident has remained unsolved and has caused great distress among the Kurds, fuelling mistrust for European institutions.
Despite revelations of links between the sole suspect Ömer Güney and certain individuals allegedly having connections with Turkish intelligence; revelations which included a number of audio recordings as well as the investigation of the French authorities that also uncovered the existence of such contacts, the case was closed after Güney died in prison in 2016, a month before the start of his trial.
The case was reopened three years later in 2019 but no progress has been made and there is still a partial confidentiality order on the case files.
2) The timing and place of the attack
The attack occurred just weeks before 9 January, the tenth anniversary of the 2013 assassinations, and the cultural centre attacked on Friday is in the same neighbourhood as the information centre targeted in those assassinations.
The 2013 attack took place in the midst of peace negotiations between the Turkish government and the PKK. At the time, many in Turkey saw the attack as an attempt to undermine the negotiations, which finally collapsed in 2015. Friday’s attack on the other hand came as Turkey is attacking Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria and the Turkish government is implementing a massive crackdown against Kurdish politicians in the country ahead of the 2023 elections. Last month, Istanbul too witnessed a deadly attack which left many people suspicious, but the Turkish government blamed the PKK and launched further drone attacks against the Kurdish-controlled Rojava in Syria as a result.
3) The lack of police protection
Representatives of Kurdish groups in Paris have stated that they had received acknowledgement from the French authorities about recent threats against them. The Kurdish institutions had also alerted the authorities to a meeting to be held at the centre on Friday in preparation for 9 January commemorations. In the event, the meeting was postponed for two hours, possibly saving the lives of some other Kurds who might otherwise have been at the centre.
4) The profile of the shooter
William M., the prime suspect in Friday’s murders, though known for attempting to murder refugees in 2016 and 2021, was released on bail on 12 December, while awaiting trial for attacking two Sudanese refugees.
According to eye-witnesses, the gunman, who was banned from possessing arms, came to the neighbourhood of the cultural centre early on Friday, carrying a gun.
The only available footage of the suspect shows him in a hair salon he entered straight after the murders, and his arrest. There is no footage showing him actually killing the three people at the centre.
Kurds are curious about who was in contact with William M. during his time in prison and whether he was deliberately guided to carry out an attack on Kurdish targets.
5) The slow response of the French police
According to some eye witnesses who spoke to the press, the French police arrived on the scene almost 40 minutes after the murders. The footage from the hair salon shows William M. being disarmed and arrested by customers and staff before the police arrived.
The ambulances arrived 30 minutes after the shooting and the victims died of haemorrhage as a result, according to journalist Ahmed Dicle.
The delay in the police reaction to the incident is fuel for further suspicions at a time there are clear threats against Kurdish targets in Europe.
6) The rush of the French authorities and media to claim the murders as a racist crime
France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who visited the crime scene on Friday, said that the shooter had obviously planned to attack foreigners but whether he had particularly planned to target Kurds was unknown. The minister also said they were investigating the possibility of a right-wing element to the crime.
According to unnamed police sources talking to Le Parisien newspaper, the suspect said “I hate Kurds” after his arrest, while a source close to the investigation told Agence-France Presse that the gunman had admitted to them that he was a racist.
Such statements and reports were also reported in the Turkish media, which immediately published reports castigating Kurdish institutions and politicians for putting the blame on Turkey despite “the fact that the killer was a far-right lone-wolf”.
This rush to frame the attack as a racist crime has further triggered suspicions among Kurds who are demanding an effective investigation into the event.