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Turkey Finds Bodies of Businessmen

January 19, 2000

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ Police discovered 10 bodies on Wednesday, bound hand and foot, strangled and left in a coal bin and garden of an Istanbul house, reportedly by militants trying to form an Islamic state in a Kurdish region of Turkey.

The bodies, believed to be those of kidnapped businessmen, were found after police questioned two senior members of the militant group Hezbollah captured following a shootout in Istanbul this week. The group is not related to the Lebanese militia of the same name.

Police said they suspected the victims, who had been missing for weeks, were kidnapped and killed by Hezbollah for supporting rival Islamic factions.

The Anatolia news agency said some of the bodies had broken legs or arms, signs the men may have been tortured.

The businessmen were all connected to an Islamic charity group and disappeared after allegedly leaving for meetings with members of Hezbollah. It was not clear why the men agreed to attend the meetings.

Mehmet Farac, an expert on radical Islamic groups, said Hezbollah typically punishes its opponents by kidnapping them, imprisoning them and occasionally putting them to death after a trial.

In recent months, police have been cracking down on Hezbollah, which draws its support from poorly-educated rural Kurds and is believed responsible for hundreds of killings in Turkey.

Some experts and foreign diplomats accuse Turkey’s government of giving the group support and training in the 1980s in exchange for help in the fight against Abdullah Ocalan’s Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK.

Hezbollah has killed about 60 members of the PKK, but has never carried out an attack on police or other officials, focusing instead on attacking its rivals.

``Our zealous authorities preferred to turn a blind eye to Hezbollah when they were killing PKK members,″ columnist Oktay Eksi wrote in the Hurriyet newspaper.

Police killed Hezbollah’s leader, Huseyin Velioglu, in a shootout in Istanbul on Monday. Authorities found Velioglu’s hide-out after discovering repairs at the house were paid for with credit cards taken from the missing businessmen, the Radical newspaper reported.

Police discovered heavy machine guns, hand grenades and dynamite at the house, reports said.

According to intelligence reports, the group was trying to shift activities to the west of the country to escape strict police surveillance in the southeast.

Suleyman Ekizer, head of the police anti-terror department, said Velioglu was trained in Iran. However, visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi that Tehran supports the group. ``They are claims without proof,″ private NTV television quoted him as saying.

Police say they have detained more than 1,200 Hezbollah members in the past year, most after Ocalan’s capture in February. The group is believed to have several thousand members.

Five Hezbollah militants were arrested in Ankara on Wednesday along with material used to make explosives, the Anatolia news agency reported.