Turkish Court Begins Trial of Islamists

DIYARBAKIR–Turkey (Reuters)–Fifteen suspected Islamist guerrillas went on trial in southeastern Turkey on Monday accused of trying to overthrow the state and of killing more than 150 people.

The case is the main trial against leaders of the Hizbullah group who have been linked by authorities to a series of gruesome killings in which victims were tortured to death–then buried bound and gagged in shallow graves.

The shadowy group–which aims to set up an Islamic state in strictly secular Turkey–began to unravel in January this year when police raided an Istanbul villa–killing Hizbullah leader Huseyin Velioglu and seizing the rebels’ archives.

Deputy leader Edip Gumus–captured in the raid–was among the defendants in Monday’s trial in Diyarbakir–the regional capital of the mainly Kurdish southeast.

He and 12 others face a possible death sentence for “trying to change the constitutional order by force of arms,” killing 156 people and wounding 80 others. Two others face jail sentences of up to 15 years for “forming an armed gang.”

Hizbullah–not believed to be related to the Iranian-backed Hizbollah group in Lebanon–gained notoriety in the early 1990s for killings of Kurdish rebel sympathizers.

That led some Kurds to accuse them of being state-paid “Contra” guerrillas–a charge authorities vehemently deny. But with a tactical change by the armed forces in the fight against Abdullah Ocalan’s separatist rebels in the mid-1990s–Hizbullah activities declined and its leaders began to organize in the cities of western Turkey.

Most of its victims were either Kurds–rival Islamists or ex-members of the organization.

After the shoot-out at the Istanbul villa–the first time Hizbullah had clashed with security forces–police began a crackdown.

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