Kurdish ex-commander claims PKK assassinated Palme in 1986

The 12-year search for the killer of the Swedish prime minister, Olof Palme, took a new twist yesterday when a former commander…

The 12-year search for the killer of the Swedish prime minister, Olof Palme, took a new twist yesterday when a former commander of the Kurdistan Workers Party of Turkey claimed the organisation was behind the assassination.

Mr Semdin Sakik, captured by Turkish forces on April 13th, was quoted in the newspaper Sabah: "I do not know the details of the assassination of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme," Sabah said he told police. "Nor do I know how the murder was planned or how the decision to kill him was taken. But I know that this murder was committed by the PKK."

Palme's murder, in February 1986, affected Sweden like no other single incident within living memory. The only Swedish political figure with an international standing, Palme was the standardbearer abroad for Scandinavian liberalism on issues as diverse as apartheid and nuclear disarmament. He was shot dead at point blank range in the centre of Stockholm as he strolled to his apartment. The point on the pavement where he fell became an instant shrine and his grave nearby is still regularly festooned with lighted candles.

The police investigation into his murder was botched from the start. Thereafter, the investigation lurched from theory to theory - including one involving the PKK - but with little success.


One occasion, the luckless Stockholm police chief, Hans Holmer, raided a jazz pub, Stampen, in the Old Town and arrested several Kurds. All had to be freed for lack of evidence.

Eventually a vagrant, Mr Christer Pettersson, was convicted of the crime in July 1989. He was acquitted on appeal in November of the same year for lack of evidence.

This year, police asked the prosecution authorities to recharge Mr Pettersson. Last week a private investigator emerged from the waters around Stockholm clutching a pistol he hoped was the missing murder weapon, a .357 magnum. It proved not to be.

The claims now emerging from Turkey will inject new life into the PKK theory. According to Sabah, Mr Sakik told investigators that the PKK leader, Mr Abdullah Ocalan, ordered a trusted Kurdish rebel based in Sweden to kill Palme after eight members of the group were expelled from Sweden.

Mr Sakik, known as "Fingerless Zeki" after losing a thumb while firing a rocket, said: "The operation to kill Palme was given the codename `wedding' and the assassination command was given by Abdullah Ocalan [with the words] `Send him to his wedding"'.

A Swedish foreign ministry spokesman in Stockholm said the information would be passed on to the special Swedish police taskforce responsible for the investigation into Palme's murder.

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times