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Turkish prosecutor and gunmen killed after hostage crisis at Istanbul courthouse

Prosecutor tasked with probing death of Berkin Elvan, youngest victim of police violence in 2013 unrest, died in hospital from gunshot wound
Turkish special forces gather outside the Istanbul courthouse where a prosecutor in the controversial case was taken hostage (AFP)

An hours-long hostage standoff at an Istanbul courthouse ended on Tuesday night with a high-level prosecutor and two gunmen killed after fierce exchanges of gunfire.

An armed group, thought to be from the leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, stormed into the courthouse on Tuesday afternoon and captured Mehmet Selim Kiraz, the prosecutor tasked with investigating the death of a young protestor killed by a tear gas canister during demonstrations in 2013.

The gunmen released a photo purporting to show the prosecutor bound and gagged and with a gun to his head, and also published a list of demands.

They wanted a live confession by the police officers accused of killing Berkin Elvan, a 15-year-old who died in March 2014.

Elvan died after 269 days in a coma, following a direct hit to the head by a police tear gas canister sustained during the Gezi Park protests of summer 2013, as he walked through the crowd to buy bread for his family.

The gunmen also demanded that the officers suspected of involvement in Elvan’s killing be tried in a “people’s court”, and that all those who are being tried after taking part in solidarity rallies after his death be acquitted.

The hostage-takers gave authorities a deadline of 15:56 local time (12:56 GMT) for their demands to be met.

Negotiations between the police and the hostage-takers ended after the deadline passed, when Turkish authorities imposed a media blackout, forbidding reporting or live broadcasting from the scene.

During the negotiations Sami Elvan, the father of the dead teenager, spoke to the gunmen by phone, according to Abdullah Ayasun, a reporter for Turkish daily Today’s Zaman.

“My son is dead, and I don’t want any others to die. Let [the prosecutor] go,” the older Elvan was quoted as saying by Turkish media.

After the deadline passed, Turkish Special Forces entered the building and prepared to end the standoff, as crowds outside the building jostled with police.

Humeyra Pamuk, a Reuters correspondent in Turkey, reported several “brawls” between journalists and police, with security forces pushing journalists aside using the barrels of their guns.

One man was arrested outside the courthouse after shouting, “Berkan Elvan is immortal,” Al-Jazeera Turkey reported.

The hostage crisis continued for around six hours, and ended at approximately 9pm local time, when observers outside heard a barrage of gunfire coming from inside the building.

The prosecutor was critically injured with a gunshot wound, and was taken to the nearby Florence Nightingale hospital after the siege was lifted.

He died around an hour later as a result of his injuries, Turkish media reported.

Commenting on the events, Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan called on the Turkish people to "congratulate" members of the security services, who he said had risked their lives when they heard gunfire from inside the courthouse on Tuesday afternoon.

Erdogan also vowed that stricter security proceedings would come into place at courthouses across the country.

The armed men may have been able to enter the building without being stopped by security because a nationwide electricity blackout meant that the court’s X-ray machines were out of action, Turkish satellite channel NTV reported.

However, Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz later confirmed that there was “no link” between the hostage-taking and the power outage, the largest to hit Turkey in 15 years.