“If I wanted to kill him, I would have,” the gunman responsible for an assassination attempt against newspaper editor Can Dündar last week said of his attack, hours before Dündar was sentenced to five years in prison for publishing a report unfavorable to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Murat Şahin was identified as the shooter who stormed up to Dündar on Friday in the front of the Istanbul courthouse and shot him, shouting, “You are a traitor!” Şahin was detained, while Dündar was taken to safety, hours before the same courthouse sentenced him to five years in prison.
Dündar was facing charges of espionage and aiding terrorist organizations. As editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, Dündar had approved the publication of an article alleging that Turkey’s intelligence agency, the MIT, had shipped weapons to anti-Assad forces in Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had vowed Dündar would be punished for the publication, and many supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had branded Dündar and his Istanbul bureau chief, Erdem Gül, traitors. Gül was also sentenced in the same verdict to serve five years in prison.
Erdogan has taken major actions against unfriendly media outlets in the past two years. In March, the government shut down the offices of the anti-AKP newspaper Zaman, firing the staff and replacing them with government-approved reporters. Zaman continues to operate, but now boasts such headlines as “Erdogan’s Mother’s Day Message” and “He Divorced His Wife for Insulting the President.”
As television cameras were surrounding Dündar during the break in hearings outside the courthouse, the entire assassination attempt was caught on video, with Şahin clearly visible.
While Şahin was detained following his attempt to shoot Dündar, he was arrested on Tuesday. He currently faces a charge of attempted manslaughter and use of an unregistered firearm, which he is apparently trying to have lowered to a battery charge. Hurriyet reports that Şahin told police he was not attempting to kill, only to “teach Dündar a lesson” because he “did not like him.” He claimed, “If I wanted to kill him, I would [have] but I shot at his leg to scare him.” The leg he shot with his gun, however, belonged to reporter Yağız Şenkal, who was on the scene covering the trial.
Three others have been arrested in connection to the shooting, and five have been taken in for interrogation. While there is evidence from surveillance cameras that Şahin spent his day mostly alone before the shooting, police believe he may have been operating with other Turkish nationalist operatives.
Cumhuriyet, which continues to operate despite having lost its editor-in-chief for the next five years, has published a report tying the shooter to Sedat Peker, a well-known organized criminal known for promoting pan-Turkism and supporting operations against separatist groups like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Cumhuriyet found that Şahin left some comments on a website supportive of Peker and that he had a prior criminal record.
It remains unclear why it took four days to arrest Şahin after he was detained for shooting at Dündar and was later found to have a criminal record.