ISTANBUL, Turkey – A nationalist militant convicted of bombing a McDonald's restaurant in 2004 has confessed to inciting the killing of an ethnic Armenian journalist last week, police said Monday.
The teenager, Ogun Samast, was arrested over the weekend along with several other people and has confessed to fatally shooting the journalist, according to a chief prosecutor.
Police confirmed the confession, but gave no details.
Police Chief Celalettin Cerrah of Istanbul said Monday that the suspect was linked to Hayal.
If accurate, Hayal's reported statements to police would be a strong indication that the journalist, Hrant Dink, was targeted because of his public statements on the mass killings of Armenians by Turks in the early 20th century, one of the nation's most sensitive and divisive issues.
"The murder has no political or organizational dimension. The suspect has carried out the murder with nationalistic feelings. He has held discussions with his friend Yasin Hayal on this issue."
Dink, the 52-year-old editor of the Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, had made public his view that the killings amounted to genocide. Nationalists consider such statements an insult to Turkey's honor and a threat to its unity, and Dink had been showered with insults and death threats.
Dink was gunned down outside his newspaper's office in Istanbul on Friday — a killing that has drawn attention to the precarious state of freedom of expression in a country vying for European Union membership.
Turkey has no diplomatic ties with Armenia but still invited Armenian officials and religious leaders as well as moderate members of the diaspora to the funeral on Tuesday.
Police took Samast, who is 16 or 17, to the crime scene late Sunday and prosecutors asked him to describe how he killed Dink, the Anatolia news agency reported on Monday. A small crowd of onlookers shouted at the suspect, "We're all Hrants. We're all Armenians!"
Hayal was convicted in the bombing of a McDonald's restaurant in Trabzon in 2004 that injured six people. He was released after serving more than 10 months in prison. At the time, police could not establish a link between Hayal and any underground groups, and his motive was never clear.
Turkey's relationship with its Armenian minority has long been haunted by a bloody past. Much of its once-influential Armenian population was killed or driven out beginning around 1915 in what an increasing number of nations are calling the first genocide of the 20th century.
Turkey acknowledges that large numbers of Armenians died but vehemently denies it was genocide, saying the overall figure is inflated and the deaths occurred in the civil unrest during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.