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Thursday, 20 January, 2000, 12:44 GMT
Bodies found in Hezbollah probe

Forensic specialists remove a corpse from an Istanbul home

Police in Turkey have found the bodies of 13 businessmen who they believe were killed by Islamic militants from the Turkish Hezbollah.

The discovery of the corpses follows a dramatic four-hour shoot-out on Monday in which the leader of Turkish Hezbollah, Huseyin Velioglu, was killed.

Ten bodies were discovered at one site in Istanbul on Wednesday.

Police on Thursday found another three corpses in the Turkish capital Ankara.

I believe that we will be able to eradicate the Hezbollah in a short time just as we have started to eradicate the PKK in Turkey and the world
Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit

The authorities are acting on information provided by two Turkish Hezbollah members captured in Monday's shoot-out.

Members of the banned group have been arrested in recent days in a series of raids all over Turkey.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said that the group, which aims to overthrow the secular government in favour of an Islamic republic, was as dangerous as the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK.

"I believe that we will be able to eradicate the Hezbollah in a short time just as we have started to eradicate the PKK in Turkey and the world", Mr Ecevit said.

Grisly find

The bodies discovered in the Uskudar district of Istanbul were found decomposing in a coal bin in the garden of a residential home.

Police discuss tactics at Monday's shoot-out
The deteriorated state of the bodies was making identification difficult.

Some of the victims had been bound hand and foot and had died of strangulation. There were signs of torture, according to official Anatolia new agency.

The victims are all thought to be businessmen with Islamic sympathies who had disappeared in the last few weeks.

Local media reports say that their bank accounts had been emptied before they were killed.

The breakthrough in the search for the leader of Turkish Hezbollah came when the use of a credit card belonging to one of the victims was traced.

Police raids have uncovered heavy machine guns, grenades and explosives materials. These materials are said by police to be similar to those used in a bomb attack in October last year that killed, Taner Kislali, a leading secular intellectual and former minister of culture.

Allegations of state support

Turkish Hezbollah, which surfaced in the 1980s, draws its support from the rural religious Kurds in the country's south-east.

There have been persistent allegations that certain sections of the Turkish military initially supported the group as it was bitterly opposed to the secular PKK.

As the threat from the PKK has decreased, concern about Hezbollah has risen. There have been hundreds of arrests of sympathisers and members in south-east Turkey in the last two years.

Turkish Hezbollah is believed to have no connection with the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Police officials say that Huseyin Velioglu was trained in Iran.

However, the Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, who was in Turkey on Wednesday, said Tehran did not back the group.

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See also:
17 Jan 00 |  Europe
Istanbul police in Islamist shoot-out
01 Apr 99 |  Middle East
Turkish police seize 400 Islamists
03 May 99 |  Europe
Headscarf row in Turkey parliament

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