PARIS (AP) — Three Kurdish women, including one of the founders of a militant group battling Turkish troops since 1984, were slain in Paris, French officials said Thursday. Angry Kurds immediately flooded the area, with some claiming the killings were a "political assassination."
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who visited the pro-Kurdish center in Paris where the bodies were found, said the deaths were "without doubt an execution." He called it a "totally intolerable act."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the killings. A Turkish lawmaker with the ruling party claimed the women were slain in a dispute between factions of the Kurdistan Workers Party. The group, known as the PKK, is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and its allies, including the United States and the European Union.
Kurdish protesters and a Kurdish lawmaker in Turkey claimed the Turkish government was involved.
The slayings came as Turkey was holding peace talks with the group to try to persuade it to disarm. The PKK has been battling Turkish troops since 1984, seeking self-rule for Kurds in southeast Turkey. The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Kurds make up more than 20 percent of Turkey's 75 million people and also live in Syria, Iran, Iraq and other neighboring areas.
The slayings were being investigated by France's anti-terrorism police, although it was not clear if the women were currently linked to the PKK.
RTL radio reported that all three were shot in the head, but French police would not immediately confirm that report. Autopsies were reportedly under way.
"We hope that the investigation will come to a quick resolution and the guilty will be identified," said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
Turkey's Anadolu news agency identified one of the victims as Sakine Cansiz, a founding member of the PKK, but French officials would not formally confirm the name.
The Paris prosecutors' office did confirm that the other two victims were Leyla Soylemez and Fidan Dogan. A news agency linked to the PKK, Firat news, said the 30-year-old Dogan was the Paris representative of the Kurdistan National Congress. It said she joined the Kurdish movement in 1999.
Emotions mounted Thursday as hundreds of Kurds filled the street in Paris outside the Kurdistan Information Center where the bodies were found. Police erected barricades to try to contain the marching crowd. Some people waved Kurdish flags while others chanted angrily against the Turkish government.
"Where are French? Where is that solidarity? I think that the state of Turkey did this," said one man in the crowd, identifying himself only as Ali.
A group of Kurdish legislators headed to Paris to try to meet with France's interior minister. Lawmaker Nazmi Gur, one of the group, knew Dogan. He said she had French citizenship and frequently attended meetings at the European Parliament or the Council of Europe on matters related to Kurds.
Information about the slayings was scant and conflicting.
According to the Federation of Kurdish Associations of France, the three women were alone at the center Wednesday and were unreachable by telephone. In a statement, the group said friends went there after midnight and saw traces of blood on the door, so they broke it down and discovered the bodies.
However, a French judicial official said there was no sign of a break-in, even by friends. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to talk to the media. Other police said the bodies were found about 1:30 a.m.
Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of a Kurdish political party in Turkey's parliament, called on the French government to shed light on the killings "without delay" and in a way that "leaves no room" for doubt.
"We want it to be known that that these assassinations — which were carried in the busiest area of Paris — cannot be covered up," Demirtas said.
Huseyin Celik, the deputy chairman of Turkey's ruling party, said the attack appeared to be the result of "an internal feud" within the PKK, but did not provide any evidence to back that up. Celik also suggested the slayings were an attempt to derail the peace talks.
Gultan Kisanak, one of the leaders of a Kurdish political party, called Cansiz "an idol of the Kurdish people and Kurdish women" and rejected the possibility of an internal PKK feud.
"She was a hero and true revolutionary who would not even waste a minute for the good of the Kurdish women," she said. "This is a trap placed on the path to a solution of the Kurdish problem, it is a political assassination."
"How dare they present the murder of a revolutionary on internal strife without any evidence?" she said in response to Celik's comment.
Songul Karabulut, who heads the foreign relations committee of the Kurdistan National Congress, told reporters that the people behind the killings clearly were "those who oppose peace."
"For us, this was not an act by one group or one individual, it was dark forces," he said. "Forces who refuse the solution of the Kurdish issue through peace."
The PKK does have a history of internal killings. However, while many Kurdish activists and militants were victims of extra-judicial killings blamed on Turkish government forces in the 1990s, it's not known whether the PKK also targeted any exiled Kurds in Europe.
Turkish officials say the PKK raises funds through extortion or other criminal activities in European countries. Turkey frequently accuses France, Germany and the Netherlands — home to large numbers of Kurds from Turkey — of supporting the PKK, of failing to extradite wanted militants and of not backing Turkey's "fight against terrorism."
More than 150,000 Kurds live in France, many around Paris, and up to 90 percent of them are from Turkey, according to an academic study. Kurds from Iran, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere make up the remainder.
French police have occasionally arrested Kurds suspected of illegally financing the PKK.
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Jamey Keaten and Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.