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‘Turkish Hizbollah’ men freed under new law 7 janvier 2011

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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The National (UAE) Jan 7, 2011

Thomas Seibert, Istanbul

Three men regarded as dangerous Islamist extremists in Turkey walked out of prison earlier this week, benefitting from a controversial new law.

The release of the militants, whose group was notorious for tying up their victims and torturing them before killing them, has triggered fears that the men may re-group and strike again.

Haci Inan, Edip Gumus and Cemal Tutar, charged with being leading members of the Turkish Hizbollah, a radical Sunni group that has no relation with the Shiite Hizbollah organisation in Lebanon, were set free in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir and in Istanbul, together with 15 other members of the group. Hizbollah has been blamed for nearly 50 deaths.

« Everybody in Turkey feels unsafe, » Cihan Sincar, the widow of a Hizbollah victim, said in an interview from her home in Kiziltepe in south-eastern Turkey yesterday.

The Hizbollah members were released after a new law took effect on January 1. It limits to 10 years the length of time a defendant can be held in prison without a verdict. Suspected members of organised crime gangs and some Kurdish activists were also set free.

The law was intended to improve Turkey’s image. Court cases often drag on for years or even decades, and the European Court of Human Rights has called on Ankara to make sure the rights of defendants to a fair trial within reasonable time are upheld.

The releases sparked a political row in Ankara. The opposition blaming the government, and the government blaming the judiciary for lengthy trials. Some judges have pointed out that the trial against the Hizbollah members is ongoing and that the accused must report to police regularly and are banned from leaving the country.

But that has done little to reassure people such as Ms Sincar, whose husband Mehmet Sincar, a Kurdish politician, was killed by Hizbollah members in 1993. « Those people now walk the streets again, they were caught by the state and now the state released them, » she said.

Hizbollah, which sought to establish an Islamist state in Turkey according to the charge sheets in trials against leading members of the group, became notorious in the 1990s. The bodies of many of its victims were found with their hands and feet tied, a sign that they were tortured before they died. One of Hizbollah’s victims was Konca Kuris, a prominent writer and Islamic women’s rights campaigner.

As Hizbollah also killed Kurdish activists such as Mr Sincar, there has been speculation that the group was supported or even set up by security forces fighting Kurdish rebels. In January 2000, police killed the Hizbollah leader Huseyin Velioglu in Istanbul and arrested many suspected members. Mr Inan, who was arrested in 2002 and released this week, is thought to have taken over the leadership of the group after Mr Velioglu’s death.

This week, Mr Inan and the other Hizbollah members were greeted by several hundred supporters outside the prison gates after being freed. « Welcomed like heroes, » one newspaper headline said. But while there are concerns that the Islamist radicals may be preparing a return to violence, some experts say a new wave of Islamic violence in Turkey is unlikely.

Ever since Turkish followers of al Qa’eda killed more than 60 people in a string of suicide attacks against two synagogues, the British consulate and a British bank in Istanbul in November 2003, security forces have kept a close eye on militants. Last week, police arrested 10 suspected al Qa’eda members in Bursa who are accused of having planned an attack on December 31.

Ihsan Bal, a terrorism expert at the International Strategic Research Organisation, a think tank in Ankara, said that potential al Qa’eda cells in Turkey were « mostly under control » today. As for Hizbollah, Mr Bal said the recent releases could trigger a debate within the group about a possible return to arms. But the danger of a militant Islamist onslaught in Turkey was remote, he said.

« I don’t see a big potential » for Islamist militants in Turkey, Mr Bal said. One reason was that political reforms and growing affluence in the country under the religiously conservative government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, had drained support for extremism.

In addition, the percentage of Turks supporting Sharia rule had dropped to 3.8 per cent from 7 per cent a few years ago, according to a recent study, he said.

« In Turkey, we have the opposite of a radicalisation, we have a de-radicalisation, » Mr Bal said.

« The [Muslim] mainstream would condemn terrorist attacks, so there is nothing to gain for militants. »


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