Prominent Turkish journalists on trial over failed coup

A journalist poses with a portrait of Turkish journalist Ahmet Altan in front of the Istanbul courthouse, where his trial is to take place. 17 suspects, including jailed journalists Nazli Ilicak, Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan, will appear before an Istanbul court on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 20 June 2017
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Prominent Turkish journalists on trial over failed coup

ISTANBUL: The trial started on Monday of 17 people, mostly journalists, accused of links to last year’s failed coup attempt in Turkey, amid heightened concerns for press freedoms.
The defendants include prominent journalist Nazli Ilicak, former newspaper chief editor Ahmet Altan and his brother Mehmet Altan, an economics professor and writer. They have been accused of having prior knowledge of the coup attempt — which has been blamed on US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen — and of supporting it.
The three, who were staunch government critics, face life in prison if found guilty of charges. They are accused of “attempting to remove the constitutional order” and “committing a crime on behalf of an armed terrorist group without being a member of it, Turkish Hurriyet Daily News reported.
Ilicak and the Altan brothers are among six jailed defendants. Ten other suspects, including Ekrem Dumanli, the former editor in chief of the Gulen-linked Zaman newspaper, are at large and being tried in absentia. Another defendant is free pending the verdict.
Reporters Without Borders, the media advocacy group, called for the immediate release of Ilicak and the Altan brothers, who have been in pre-trial detention since July and September.
“It is high time that the Turkish authorities ended their systematic criminalization of critics,” the group said. “The already worrying situation of its media has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the 2016 coup attempt.”
Turkey has arrested some 50,000 people in a massive crackdown following the failed coup and dismissed tens of thousands of other people from government jobs. Around 150 media organizations have been closed down and more than 100 journalists have been jailed.
Gulen, who is in self-imposed exile in the US, has denied involvement in the coup attempt.


America revisits ‘Pizza Bomber’ mystery with new Netflix series

Updated 26 May 2018
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America revisits ‘Pizza Bomber’ mystery with new Netflix series

WASHINGTON: As bank heists in America go, this was one of the weirdest: in 2003, a pizza delivery man walks into a bank with a bomb around his neck and a note demanding a quarter of a million dollars.
Police in Pennsylvania apprehend him, but shortly thereafter, the explosive device goes off, ripping a hole in his chest that kills him minutes before the bomb squad arrives.
Netflix has now come out with a mini-series on the robbery and returns to a question that has divided opinion for 15 years: was that man, one Brian Wells, a willing accomplice, or was he the unwitting victim of a bizarre plot?
The four fast-moving episodes of “Evil Genius,” directed by Barbara Schroeder and Trey Borzillieri, look back at all the puzzles that made up this heist in Erie, a small city in the Great Lakes region.
It all begins when Wells, 46, walks into a branch of PNC Bank with a gun shaped like a cane. Around his neck is a collar with a bomb on a timer.
He hands over a note demanding $250,000, but was given just over $8,000, and leaves sucking on a lollipop he grabbed from the counter.
In his hand he carries pages of rambling, hand-written instructions for a sort of a scavenger hunt for keys and combinations hidden around Erie that would remove the collar.
But he never got as far as that hunt. Wells was apprehended near the bank, and handcuffed. Police realized he was wearing a bomb, and kept their distance.
That scene was filmed and broadcast by TV stations around the world.
“I don’t know if I have enough time now,” Wells told police. He said he had been tricked while delivering pizzas.
“I am not lying,” Wells said as he sat on the sidewalk. “It’s gonna go off.”
The collar starts to beep. Wills gets more and more agitated. Then it explodes and kills him.
To recover the explosive device, police had to cut off Wills’ head.
Then, in the following days, odd things start happening in Erie.
Robert Pinetti, a former colleague of Wells, is found dead in his home, apparently the victim of a drug overdose.
Then another man, Bill Rothstein, tells police there is a body in his refrigerator.
The body is that of James Roden, boyfriend of one Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, whom Rothstein describes as a woman who manipulates people.
Diehl-Armstrong, once a brilliant student noted for her striking good looks, suffers from bipolar disorder. Twenty years earlier, she was accused of murdering her then-boyfriend, but argued she had acted in self-defense and was acquitted at trial.
It gets even more complicated, so pay attention.
According to a drug addict named Kenneth Barnes, Diehl-Armstrong planned the bank heist so as to get money to hire him as a hitman to take out her own father, whom she accused of spending the money due her as part of her inheritance.
Rothstein, a former boyfriend of Diehl-Armstrong and a mechanically-gifted eccentric, allegedly designed the bomb.
Diehl-Armstrong is therefore the “Evil Genius,” as the Netflix series is entitled.
Obsessed by this woman, co-director Borzillieri communicated with her for more than 10 years, in writing and over the phone, to better understand the case — becoming particularly focused on the subject of Brian Wells.
“In the beginning, very much like the residents of Erie and law enforcement, I believed that he was involved in this case and did so for a good long while,” said Borzillieri.
“By the end of the journey, my opinion is that he was innocent,” he told AFP.
A long FBI probe found that Wells was a “co-conspirator” — a conclusion which meant that the others involved in the plot could not legally face the death penalty for his murder.
“I think the whole plan initially started out as a way for them all to make some money. But it developed into more than just making money. It became almost a game to them. A diabolical, maniacal game,” said FBI special agent Jerry Clark.
Diehl-Armstrong, who died of cancer last year aged 68, also fascinated Schroeder, who is a journalist.
“Marjorie can be abrasive and off-putting, but she is also fascinating. She is like a train wreck where you have to turn your head and look and then she keeps your attention because she is eloquent,” said Schroeder.
“She was the most fascinating female I have ever come across.”
The last episode of Evil Genius adds a reasonable clue to the so-called Pizza Bomber mystery — previously unheard testimony from a prostitute named Jessica Hoopsick.
Hoopsick claimed she became friends with Wells and developed feelings for him, despite the fact that he was also a paying client, and says she wants to resurrect his reputation and name.
She says she was paid by Diehl-Armstrong and her people to recruit an easy target for their heist plans. She says she suggested Wells.
“He had no idea what would happen to him,” Hoopsick says in the Netflix series.