Three Kurdish women, said to include a founding member of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), were shot dead overnight Thursday in Paris in what France's interior minister dubbed an “assassination.”
The women were found in the early hours with gunshot wounds to the head and neck inside a Kurdish information center in the 10th district of the French capital, police and the center’s director said.
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls visited the scene of the crime and described the killings as “assassinations”, but he declined to speculate when asked about a possible political motivation for the crime.
“Three women have been shot down, killed, without doubt executed. This is a very serious incident, which is why I am here. It is completely unacceptable,” he told reporters.
French anti-terror police have opened a probe into the murders, officials said.
Hundreds of Kurds gathered Thursday in front of the center to protest at the deaths, with some of them chanting “We are all PKK!” and “Turkey assassin, Hollande complicit”, referring to French President Francois Hollande.
The murders came after Turkish media reported on Wednesday that the Turkish government and jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan had agreed on a roadmap to end a three-decade-old insurgency, which has claimed around 45,000 lives.
The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and by much of the international community, took up arms in Kurdish-majority southeastern Turkey in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed some 45,000 lives.
One of the dead in the Paris center was Sakine Cansiz, the Federation of Kurdish Associations in France said in a statement which described her as a founding member of the PKK.
A second was said to be 32-year-old Fidan Dogan, an employee of the center, who was also the Paris representative of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress.
The third was Leyla Soylemez, described by the federation as a “young activist.”
The three were last seen alive midday on Wednesday at the center on the first floor of a building on Lafayette Street, according to the center’s director, Leon Edart.
Friends and colleagues who tried and failed to contact them eventually went to the center and found traces of blood on the door, which they then forced open to find the bodies of the three inside around 01:00 am (0000 GMT), said Edart.
Two of the women were shot in the neck while the third had wounds to her forehead and stomach, the Kurdish federation said.
There are around 150,000 Kurds in France, the vast majority of them of Turkish origin.
French police in October detained a suspected European leader of the PKK and three other members of the group as part of a probe into terrorism financing and association with a terrorist group.
A source close to the case said investigators were probing whether those arrested had been trying to obtain weapons of war.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in September accused France and Germany of obstructing Ankara’s fight against the PKK.
Erdogan’s government recently revealed that Turkish intelligence services had for weeks been talking to Ocalan, who has been held on the island prison of Imrali south of Istanbul since his capture in 1999.
Under the reported peace roadmap, the government would reward a ceasefire by granting wider rights to Turkey’s Kurdish minority, whose population is estimated at up to 15 million in the 75-million nation.
The rebels also reportedly want the release of hundreds of Kurdish activists and the recognition of Kurdish identity in Turkey’s new constitution.