By Constant Méheut
A man arrested in connection with a shooting that left three Kurdish people dead in central Paris last week was indicted on charges of murder and attempted murder with a racist motive on Monday, according to French judicial authorities. The decision was closely watched by a Kurdish community that has long sought safety in France and was still reeling from the killings.
But the news of the indictment may do little to ease the anger of many Kurds who view the shooting not as racially motivated, but as a terrorist attack targeting them and carried out with Turkey’s help. Kurdish independence movements and the Turkish government have been locked in a protracted conflict that has led Turkey to violently repress Kurds at home and abroad.
After the shootings on Friday, protests by Kurds turned violent, and demonstrations have continued.
“We know it’s a political attack!” Berivan Firat, a spokesperson for the Kurdish Democratic Council in France, a political group, said at a march on Monday near the site of the shooting. Hundreds of people attended the demonstration, calling for further investigation.
The French investigators have presented no evidence that the man was affiliated with any Turkish group. Instead, they said the man — whom they did not name but whom the French media identified as William M. — had been motivated by deep-seated racist and anti-immigrant beliefs.
In a statement released Sunday, the Paris prosecutor, Laure Beccuau, said the 69-year-old suspect had told investigators that a burglary at his home in 2016 had triggered a “hatred of foreigners that became completely pathological.” The man described himself as depressed with suicidal tendencies, adding that before ending his own life he had “always wanted to murder migrants, foreigners.”
The man told investigators that he had initially traveled early Friday morning with a semi-automatic pistol to Saint-Denis, a northern Paris suburb with a large immigrant population, intent on killing foreigners. But he added that he had changed his mind because few people were around.
The prosecutor said he then returned to his parents’ home in central Paris. From there he headed to a Kurdish cultural center where he shot dead two men, Mir Perwer and Abdulrahman Kizil, and a woman, Emine Kara, the leader of the Kurdish women’s movement in France. He next headed to a nearby Kurdish barbershop, where he wounded three more men before being disarmed and subdued.
The man told investigators that he resented Kurds for detaining fighters with the Islamic State group while they fought the terrorist group in Syria, instead of killing them.
French authorities said the man was a member of a shooting club and had been involved in several other criminal cases. In particular, he had been charged a year ago with racist armed assault after attacking a migrant camp in Paris with a saber. He had recently been freed from detention while awaiting trial.
French judicial authorities on Monday said the man had also been indicted on charges of unauthorized possession of a weapon.
Many left-wing politicians denounced what they saw as racist murders fueled by a growing anti-immigrant rhetoric in France and drew a link with recent attacks against foreigners by far-right militants.
“What happened in Paris should be a wake-up call to all of us about the danger of the far right,” Olivier Faure, the leader of the Socialist Party, posted on Twitter shortly after the attack.
But many Kurdish participants in Monday’s march said they did not accept that interpretation. Instead, they suggested without evidence that Turkey was to blame.
“For us, this is not a racist act at all,” said Élise Demir, 36, who was walking amid a crowd of demonstrators as nearby loudspeakers played a Kurdish song. She noted that the neighborhood where the attack occurred was “full of foreigners,” but that only Kurds had been targeted.
The Kurdish cultural center that was attacked houses the Kurdish Democratic Council of France. Adel Bakawan, a researcher on the Middle East at the French Institute of International Relations, said the group is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has fought a decadeslong insurgency against the Turkish state to win greater autonomy for the Kurds.
The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, the EU and Turkey, which has violently cracked down on its militants and allies at home and abroad, including in a series of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria last month.
“We’re being killed in Turkey, in Syria, and now in France,” said Serhed Altuntas, 19, who had come to the march from Brest, a city on the western edge of France.
Around him, many demonstrators were wearing vests reading “Truth and Justice” or waving purple flags with printed portraits of three Kurdish militants including a founder of the PKK, who were murdered in the same area on Jan. 9, 2013. The suspect in that case was possibly linked with Turkish state intelligence services, according to French prosecutors, but died in custody before being tried.
The investigation into that previous murder has dragged on, fueling the anger of Kurds in France, who number about 300,000, and their skepticism toward French authorities today, Bakawan said. He added that growing threats of a Turkish invasion of Kurdish-controlled areas in northeastern Syria had heightened tensions.
Leaders of the Kurdish Democratic Council of France, which called for Monday’s march, drew a straight line between the two killings, portraying them as part of a Turkish campaign to repress Kurdish militants.
A large black banner held by participants leading the march read, “10 years after 9 January, the Turkish state has massacred another 3 of our friends in Paris.” Angry slogans against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey were regularly shouted by demonstrators.
Several people at the march said they were disappointed that France did not show more consideration for the Kurds despite their crucial role in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria.
“We gave our lives so that you could be safe,” said Berivan Firat, the spokesperson, as she addressed the demonstrators from a truck. “When will we be safe?”