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24 January 2008

FAITH UNDER FIRE Hearings begin in slaughter of 3 Christians

fab596dd6d964bc288f28bf4f0e1e161.jpgDetails about the martyrdom of three Christians at a Bible publishing house in Turkey last year are beginning to emerge as suspects testify in hearings, according to a report from Compass Direct News.

There are several suspects in the executions of Tilman Geske of Germany and Turkish nationals Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, according to authorities. Suspect Hamit Ceker was one of the first to testify in court, Compass Direct reported.

Ceker told court officials in Malatya's 3rd Criminal Court he watched as another suspect, identified as Emre Gunaydin, slit the throats of two of the Christians, Geske and Aydin, but he was unaware how Yuksel died.

"I didn't see how Ugur was killed," Ceker testified. "I just heard him cry out 'Jesus!'"

Ceker also testified that although he and other Islamists carried newly purchased knives, plastic gloves and Islamic prayer inscriptions, the purpose of the team of Muslims was to get evidence against the Christians.

Authorities earlier said suspects in the slaughter of the three men had been taken into custody and would face trial.

Christians, who make up less than 1 percent of the population in Turkey, have been subjected to numerous attacks in recent years. In 2006, a Turkish teen shot to death a Roman Catholic priest as he prayed in his church. Two other priests were attacked the same year. Early last year came the death of Armenian Christian editor Hrant Dink.

The three victims of the publishing house attack were found with their hands and legs bound and their throats slit. Authorities said police were dispatched after getting calls about a fight.

When the attack became known, Geske's widow, Susanne, responded in a way that hit the front pages of the nation's largest newspapers.

"Oh God, forgive them for they know not what they do," she said, agreeing with the words of Christ on Calvary (Luke 23.34), according to a letter Christians in Turkey have written to the worldwide church, 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.'"

Titled "A letter to the Global Church from The Protestant Church of Smyrna," it was received by VOM shortly after the slayings, and the ministry organization that works with the Persecuted Church worldwide publicized it.

VOM noted that 2,000 years earlier, this location of Christians was addressed in Rev. 2:8-11: "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write… 'Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation 10 days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.'"

The letter told of a Bible study that was planned that morning involving the three Christians and apparently five Muslims who had been invited.

"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."

During his trial, Compass Direct reported, Ceker said the Muslims were angered when Aydin said, "We are all the children of Jesus."

Ceker said he tried to persuade the others to leave the men tied up on the floor, but Gunaydin replied, "No, they know me now."

The report said Ceker testified Gunaydin told another suspect, Salih Gurler, to strangle Aydin, but when he couldn't, Gunaydin slashed Aydin's throat. Then Gunaydin took a towel to cover Geske's face and cut his throat.

When Ceker reported he had loosened the cords binding Yuksel's wrists, and slipped a packet under his head, Semse Aydin, Necati Aydin's window, protested.

"They went there to kill our husbands, and then they say they did things to make them comfortable!" the widow cried out in the courtroom, according to Compass Direct. "This is contemptible!"

But Ceker admitted Gunaydin had been complaining about the 49 "house churches" in Malatya and saying Christians were a threat to Islam.

Court proceedings are scheduled to resume Feb. 25, Compass reported.

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