Turkish Police Foil Assassination of Christian Pastor
(WWM) ISTANBUL - Police in Turkey say they thwarted an assassination plot against a Christian pastor Tuesday when they arrested 14 suspects, two of whom had been part of his congregation for more than a year.
Emre Karaali, pastor of Izmit Protestant Church and the target of the alleged plot, said two of the arrested suspects were regular members, feigning interest in Christianity. One of them, he said, participated in a baptism in July.
"These people had infiltrated our church and collected information about me, my family and the church and were preparing an attack against us," said Karaali, 33, a native Turk and a convert to Christianity. "Two of them attended our church for over a year and they were like family."
The Istanbul Protestant Church Foundation, of which the Izmit church is a member, denounced the alleged assassination plot in a press statement Thursday. "These types of assassination attempts are a black stain that some want to spread on Turkey making it a spectacle to the world," the statement read.
Izmit, about 100 miles east of Istanbul, is the heart of an industrial region of about 1 million people, known for the devastation it faced in the earthquake of 1999 that claimed thousands of lives. The Izmit Protestant Church, operating for 13 years, is a small congregation, ministering to 20 people, all of whom are Turkish converts to Christianity.
"Every region of Turkey has its challenges," he said. "What is difficult about our city is that the people here are closed and there are many radical groups making it a hard place for the church. The anger towards us continues."
Accounts of the arrests in Turkish media reported that the suspects were planning to murder Karaali this week during a series of evangelistic outreach meetings. Press reports said the Izmit anti-terror police decided to close in when they learned the network of suspects had brought in someone from Diyarbakir, in eastern Turkey, to carry out the murder.
Karaali's predecessor, Wolfgang Hade, a German, also had received death threats during his time as pastor in Izmit, and was under police protection for a year after the 2007 murders of three Christians in the eastern city of Malatya. The accused ringleader of the Malatya murders had said he was planning on killing Hade next.
Turkey was ranked No. 31 on the 2012 World Watch List, a ranking of the 50 countries where life as a Christian is most oppressed, as measured by Open Doors International, a ministry to persecuted Christians. Turkey did not rank among the top 50 in the 2013 World Watch List, which showed a surge of persecution in African countries.