Kurdish Whodunit

Last night someone killed three top emigre leaders of the Kurdish movement in France. The victims, all women, who were found shot, execution-style, included Sakine Cansiz, a noted Kurdish politico, and one of the founders of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).  Although the PKK is considered a terrorist organization by many Western governments, including the United States, its fronts – like the Paris political office where the bloodbath went down – operate more or less undisturbed in many countries.

While the PKK is a terrorist organization, it is grounded in legitimate Kurdish grievances against the Turkish state, and the war it has waged against Turkey for more than three decades has claimed over 40,000 lives on both sides. One of the ironies of this slaughter is that since November Ankara has been involved in not-quite-secret negotiations with the PKK, including its imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been in Turkish custody for over a decade and is a close comrade of the martyred Ms. Cansiz.

Although Turkey is a complex place with factions inside the military and intelligence services which are not enthusiastic about any parley with the hated PKK, it is difficult to see why Ankara would sanction such a daring hit operation at such a critical moment. Rumors are rife that the Paris bloodbath was the outcome of an internecine Kurdish squabble over money and/or political influence in the powerful diaspora. Neither of these possibilities can be ruled out, as both Turkey and the PKK have killed people in Europe whom they thought inconvenient. Yet the Paris massacre is quite brazen by the usual standards of the Ankara vs. PKK war which has been waged intermittently in Europe since the 1980s.

Who, then, might be behind this? European security specialists are already wondering if Iran has something to do with the killings. Iran has a long history of assassinating Kurdish exiles in Europe, plus the rising Ankara vs. Tehran spywar could have something to do with this. It’s not difficult to imagine that Iran, which has a considerable Kurdish problem itself, might not be enthusiastic about the PKK reaching a peace deal with the Turks – not least because Iran has intermittently supported the PKK in its war against Turkey.

Moreover, the Paris hit bears a striking resemblance to an operation carried out by the Pasdaran, the feared Revolutionary Guards Corps, in Vienna in 1989. There, in July, Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, a top Kurdish emigre, was gunned down with two of his colleagues in a hit which was never officially solved but which Austrian security services knew to be a Pasdaran operation. Of high interest, Austrian security officials – backed up by leading Austrian parliamentarians – have stated categorically that the Ghassemlou assassination was orchestrated by then-Pasdaran Colonel Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who more recently has been Iran’s president.

The Ghassemlou hit caused Iran some blowback, though nothing like what followed the 1992 Mykonos operation, where Pasdaran hitters took out four Kurdish emigres in a Berlin restaurant in best gangland fashion. After that massacre, Germany cracked down and for nearly two decades Iran has played it lower-key in Europe.

Has that caution now been thrown to the wind? Certainly Iran’s long history of killing off leading Kurdish exiles in Europe in a spectacular fashion means that Tehran is a top suspect in the Paris bloodbath. There’s a lot we don’t know yet, but my European counterintelligence pals tell me that right now, all eyes are on the Pasdaran.

The Pasdaran are more than just an intelligence service of a revolutionary regime. They play a key role in the formulation of foreign policy for Iran, especially its nasty edges. The recent visit of Qassem Sulemani, the chief of the IRGC’s Qods Force, its notorious wetwork and terrorist arm, to Cairo as a guest of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood ought to raise alarm bells far and wide.

Was the Qods Force behind the Paris assassinations? It’s too soon to say for sure, but that’s where the smart money is looking in top European counterintelligence circles, and that seems a better bet than Turkish hitters or PKK squabblers.

More as it emerges ….


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