Turkish superstar Ibrahim Tatlises shot in head by unknown attackers

Singer targeted as he left TV studio; scores of artists and fans flock to hospital where 59-year-old Ibrahim Tatlises is in an induced coma after hours of brain surgery.

The shooting of Turkish singing sensation Ibrahim Tatlises has been linked to his business dealings in Iraq.
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UPDATE: Ex-manager's aide held over shooting of Turkish singer Ibrahim Tatlises

ISTANBUL // Ibrahim Tatlises, a Turkish singer of Kurdish descent who has millions of fans in Turkey and around the Middle East, was in critical condition in an Istanbul hospital yesterday after being shot in the head by unknown assailants.

Tatlises, 59, was shot as he left a television studio after completing his regular show there around midnight on Sunday. Buket Cakici, an assistant of the singer, was also hurt when at least two people opened fire with automatic weapons and then sped away in a black car.

Huseyin Avni Mutlu, the governor of Istanbul, told reporters in the city yesterday that 11 shots were fired during the attack. Two bullets hit Tatlises and another two hit his assistant. "What is certain is that at least two people carried out the attack," Mr Mutlu said.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, called the hospital for information on his medical condition and ordered authorities "to do everything necessary" to find the gunmen, the Hurriyet newspaper reported on its website. Recep Akdag, the health minister, issued a statement describing Tatlises' condition as "critical".

Few artists in Turkey have reached the superstar reputation enjoyed by Tatlises. "He has been very successful as a musician," Songul Karahasanoglu, a musicologist specialising in popular music at Istanbul's Technical University, said yesterday. "He is also a phenomenon in the Arab world."

In Istanbul, scores of Turkish artists and fans flocked to the hospital in Maslak, a quarter on the European side of the Turkish metropolis, where Tatlises was being kept in an induced coma after several hours of brain surgery. News reports quoted people close to the singer as saying that Tatlises was likely to remain paralysed in the left side of his body if he survived his injuries. The singer is divorced and has four children by three different women.

Born in the south-eastern province of Urfa in Turkey's Kurdish region in 1952, Tatlises shot to fame in the 1970s with sentimental songs about loneliness, unrequited love and homesickness. In the course of his career, he gained many fans beyond Turkey's borders in Middle Eastern countries, and he was also popular with the more than two million Turks in Germany.

His career has made him wealthy. He owns restaurants and hotels and recently invested in a construction project in the city of Erbil, the capital of Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdistan region.

Persistent reports in the Turkish media linking Tatlises to the Turkish Mafia have been fuelled by the fact that prosecutors questioned him in connection with investigations concerning several organised crime groups, and there were at least two attempts to shoot him in the past. He was injured in one shooting in 1990 and escaped unharmed in the other, in 1998.

"Tatlises was the first one who carried the music and the lifestyle of the south-east to Istanbul," Prof Karahasanoglu said, adding that in the course of the singer's career, his business interests seem to have taken priority over the musical side. Many people in Turkey knew that Tatlises, whose name translates to "sweet voice", was reported to have ties to criminals, but loved him anyway because of his music, she said. The professor added Tatlises was not unlike Frank Sinatra in that respect, because the American singer also combined musical stardom with reported links to organised crime.

There was intense media speculation about who may have been behind the attack on Tatlises. Some news reports said Kurdish rebels may have been responsible, but there was no indication as to why the rebels would target Tatlises, and there was no official statement and no reaction from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, a rebel group fighting for Kurdish self-rule since 1984.

Izzet Yildizhan, a singer and a friend of Tatlises, told the CNN-Turk news channel he suspected that Tatlises' business interests in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the singer has been involved in a housing project with Iraqi partners, were behind the attack. "All signs are pointing in that direction," he said.

"It is clear that he had problems in northern Iraq, but he did not expect such a thing. He did not take it seriously, all he expected was a minor dispute," Yildizhan said.

But Duzgun Beyaz, the business partner of Tatlises in Erbil, denied that the shooting may have been triggered by problems in Iraq. "There have been some minor problems, but not on the scale of an incident like this," Mr Beyaz told Turkish media. He gave no details about the nature of the problems, but said Tatlises had been planning a trip to Erbil in the coming days.

Fans of the singer, who is called "Ibo" by his many admirers, reacted with dismay and anger to the shooting. "Ever since I heard it, I am in shock," Ferhat Betul Simsek, a member of the singer's fan group on Facebook, wrote in a message. "This must not end this way. Our prayers are with you."

Other fans called on the perpetrators to be found and punished. "May the hands of those who shot you be broken," wrote Mehemet Usta, another member of the fan group on Facebook. "Urfa is weeping blood," he added in reference to the singer's home region.