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Many in France's Kurdish community don't think killings were a lone-wolf attack

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The Kurdish community in France is reeling after three people were killed in Paris over the Christmas weekend. It came just as the large diaspora was preparing to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of a different tragedy, the murder of three Kurdish women. French authorities say the killings were likely committed by a lone wolf attacker, but as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, many Kurds disagree.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SE JINAN AZAD")

DELILA: (Singing in Kurdish).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: This week hundreds of Kurdish women led a march through Paris. They carried framed portraits of the six assassinated Kurds, commemorating the tragic anniversary and mourning the new attacks. Forty-four-year-old French Kurd shopkeeper Aria Aranc Kaborani has been in France 20 years.

ARIA ARANC KABORANI: (Through interpreter) No Kurd believes December's killings were just a racist attack and a coincidence coming so close to the January 9 anniversary. It's a pure political attack, and Turkey is behind it.

BEARDSLEY: Turkey has denied any involvement in the killings and recently accused France of encouraging anti-Turkish propaganda. The Turkish government has had a long-running conflict with Kurdish militants seeking greater autonomy for the Kurdish minority. French police have charged a retired rail worker with December's killings. The avowed racist had recently served prison time for attacking migrants. But a French couple watching from the sidewalk agrees with the marchers.

NICOLE DUBOIS: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "Why would someone looking to kill foreigners go to this tiny street and fire into a Kurdish cultural center when there are halal butchers and streets full of Africans all around," asked Nicole Dubois. The triple murder of the female activists 10 years ago has never been solved. All three were key members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, considered a terrorist group by Turkey but also by the U.S. and EU.

KENDAL NEZAN: French justice established that there are very heavy suspicions about the Turkish intelligence services' involvement.

BEARDSLEY: That's Kendal Nezan, director of the Kurdish Institute in Paris. Experts say there is ample evidence tying the women's chauffeur and killer to the Turkish state, but the man died in prison from a brain tumor before his trial. The case has been classified by authorities to conceal French intelligence and surveillance.

NEZAN: Justice was denied to the families, to the Kurdish community, in this triple assassination of 2013.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: That impunity, say these protesters, led to three more people dying. One of those shot in December was a young musician. Another had fought in a female militia against Islamic State and was one of the heroines of the Kurds' war against ISIS.

PIERRE BONNEAU: This is why we are here today - to ask for truth and justice for the political killings of 2013 and, again, the political killings of December 2022.

BEARDSLEY: That's Pierre Bonneau, who works with human rights group The Danielle Mitterrand Association. He says Europe has a moral obligation to protect the Kurds, not least because they have been a huge force in fighting ISIS in Syria. A French judge recently called to reopen the 2013 case. The new murders give impetus to that demand.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SARAH MARCHA: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Sarah Marcha is a spokesperson for the movement of Kurdish women in France. She says the killings are a stain on French democracy.

MARCHA: We want that this assassination will stop. For that, we need that French government will open some documents that are classified and give all the documents to the justice that the justice can make their work.

BEARDSLEY: Protesters are also demanding that December's killings be investigated as a possible terrorist attack, not just an isolated hate crime. Tens of thousands of Kurds from around Europe are expected in Paris Saturday to march for justice. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH SONG, "SOUR SOUL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.