Nine bodies in a coal shed prove that Turkey's state-sponsored terrorists are back

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The Independent Online

If you are walking down a street in south-east Turkey and you hear someone close behind shout "Allahu akbar" - Arabic for "God is great" - the chances are that you are a dead man walking. This is the calling card of Turkey's Hizbollah, one of the country's most sinister terrorist groups. Within minutes, the victim is shot or hacked to death with an axe.

If you are walking down a street in south-east Turkey and you hear someone close behind shout "Allahu akbar" - Arabic for "God is great" - the chances are that you are a dead man walking. This is the calling card of Turkey's Hizbollah, one of the country's most sinister terrorist groups. Within minutes, the victim is shot or hacked to death with an axe.

Hizbollah carries out assassinations on carefully selected targets and is believed to be responsible for hundreds of killings. It has been accused of being an unofficial state-sponsored execution squad.

Until now Hizbollah has been a nightmare confined to the country's south-east. Butyesterday police dragged the bodies of nine Turkish businessmen out of a coal shed on the Asian side of Istanbul, their arms and legs tied. They had been murdered by Hizbollah, a Kurdish group committed to Islamic revolution in Anatolia, which remains shrouded in secrecy. It is not thought to be connected to the Lebanese or Iranian organisations of the same name.

Hizbollah emerged in the 1980s as the south-east was becoming embroiled in the ferocious rebellion of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The group was bitterly opposed to the Marxist beliefs of the PKK and carried out a series of attacks on Kurdish militants and sympathisers.

Crucially, in its early years, Hizbollah did not attack Turkish officials or the military. The group was accused of having made a Faustian pact with the authorities: Hizbollah would carry out attacks on the PKK and the authorities would leave it alone. Some even said Turkish intelligence had formed Hizbollah. This has never been proved, however, and Turkey has always denied the accusation.

The group faded from view after a series of successful operations against it over the past two years. The events of this week, however, prove that it has not gone away.

Police say they found the bodies of the businessmen after interrogating Hizbollah members captured after a dramatic five-hour shoot-out in Istanbul. Why Hizbollah killed them is not clear - they may have been members of a rival Islamic group. The militants are believed to have takenfunds from the businessmen's bank accounts.

The other image on everyone's mind here this week is the blood-stained body of Huseyin Velioglu, lying with a Kalashnikov by his side. Velioglu is believed to have been the leader of the violent wing of Hizbollah and was killed in Monday's battle with police. Now Turks are wondering whether the resurgent movement has died with him, while waiting to see what else comes out of the coal shed.

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