Around eleven o’clock on Friday morning in Paris, a man shot several members of the city’s Kurdish community, killing three people and wounding three others, one of them seriously. The shooting took place on rue d’Enghien, in the tenth arrondissement, in an area known for the large communities of Turkish, Syrian and Kurdish people who live and work there. From the first reconstructions it is clear that the manager wanted to specifically hit the Kurdish community.
What happened in Paris
According to the investigators’ reconstructions, based on eyewitness accounts, the assassin was armed with a pistol and several magazines and initially headed towards the “Ahmet Kaya” Kurdish cultural center, a point of reference for the Kurds living in Paris, where cultural events, political discussions are often organised, and help with immigration procedures is offered to those wishing to move to France.
The center was also the base of operations of the Kurdish Democratic Center of France (CDKF), the main Kurdish nationalist organization in the country, and a group of sympathizers of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a far-left political and paramilitary organization which operates mainly in Iraq (Turkey and Western countries consider it a terrorist organization).
The killer began shooting in the Cultural Center, also pursuing one of the victims after she tried to cross the street to take refuge in a Kurdish restaurant. He killed two men and a woman, then started walking down rue d’Enghien and broke into a hairdresser’s shop that was very popular with Kurds. He again began shooting, injuring at least one person before customers disarmed him and called the police, surveillance camera footage of the hairdresser also showed.
Among the victims is Emine Kara, leader of the Kurdish women’s movement in France who had fought for thirty years in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran and who had actively participated in the reconquest of the city of Rakka – occupied by the Islamic State – from part of the Kurdish forces. She then applied for political asylum in France. One of the two men is a Kurdish singer who had obtained political refugee status in France and who had been frequenting the cultural center for some time. The identity of the third man killed, nor of the wounded, is still unknown.
The Paris prosecutor’s office has announced the opening of an investigation into murder and attempted murder.
In the afternoon, the French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin arrived at the site of the attack and gave a public speech to express condolences to the Kurdish community, while specifying how he was not yet certain that the shooter “did it specifically to hit the Kurds, but rather “the foreigners”» in general (in reality, the reconstructions of the investigators later confirmed that the attack was explicitly aimed at the Kurds).
Darmanin is known to have expressed various positions against Muslims in the past, and during his speech, some tension mounted among the members of the Kurdish community who were there. Some protesters began throwing stones and other objects at the police, who meanwhile charged the protesters and used tear gas to disperse them.
Who is the prime suspect
Paris police arrested a man, William M., aged 69: according to the French newspaper Le Journal de dimanche, which published a detailed account of the first interview with the suspect, the man said he did it “because I’m a racist”. He had a pistol and various magazines with him.
William M. had already received a six-year prison sentence for “prohibited possession of category A, B and C weapons” in 2017, which was later suspended. In June 2022 he was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment for acts of violence with weapons committed in 2016: the proceedings are still ongoing.
More recently, in December 2021, he had sabered several tents in a Paris migrant camp, inhabited mainly by Sudanese men, injuring two people. In that case he had been indicted for “violence with a weapon, premeditated and of a racist nature”. He had been in custody for almost a year, but was released on December 12 and placed under judicial supervision with a ban on leaving the territory and carrying weapons. The release had been forced by the arrival of the maximum period of pre-trial detention of one year established by law.
Paris attorney general Laure Beccuau said the investigations will also take into account the racist motives of the attack. Representatives of the national anti-terrorism prosecution went to rue d’Enghien, but according to her Beccuau “at present (…) there is nothing that demonstrates any affiliation of this man to an extremist ideological movement”. Also according to Interior Minister Darmanin, the man “evidently acted alone”, and he was not among the people reported as dangerous or far-right by the intelligence services.
The Kurdish Democratic Council of France does not share this analysis. According to spokesman Agit Polat, “Turkish President Recep Erdogan and the Turkish state” are behind the attack. Also Jean-Luc Mélenchon, one of the leaders of the radical left party La France Insoumise, he said he “doesn’t believe in chance when it comes to the murder of Kurds in Paris”.
Already in January 2013, three Kurdish feminist activists, Fidan Doğan, Sakine Cansiz and Leyla Şaylemez, had been shot dead in the tenth arrondissement. In later years, French authorities investigating the case said they believed Turkish intelligence was likely to be involved in the assassination.
Who are the Kurds, in brief
The Kurds are a population of about 40 million people who live in a large territory divided between Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Despite being one of the largest ethnic groups in the entire Middle East, they do not have a state of their own: over the last century several nationalist movements have arisen aimed at obtaining it, by diplomacy or by force, but the four countries in which they find the territories in which they live have prevented them from doing so, and grant them very different degrees of autonomy according to the government under which they find themselves.
In the years in which the Islamic State (ISIS) controlled huge areas of Syria and Iraq, the Kurds had fought in a particularly valiant way for the liberation of those territories and had begun to govern them with substantial autonomy, among other things giving enormous space to leaders feminists.
The history of the Kurds’ relationship with local and Western powers – especially the United States, Turkey and the European Union – is very long and complex, but it is enough to know that many activists and militants who fought alongside Western troops against ISIS are now accused of being terrorists or supporters of terrorism, mainly because the organizations to which they belong (such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK) have been fighting against Turkey for decades to create an autonomous state for the Kurds, even going so far as to organize attacks that have killed several people.
About 250,000 Kurds live in France: most of them live in Paris.