44 die in wedding massacre
Published 05/05/2009 | 10:45
Masked gunmen attacked a wedding ceremony in south east Turkey with automatic weapons, killing 44 people, including the bride and groom, and wounding six others.
Two girls survived after the bodies of friends fell on top of them.
Interior Minister Besir Atalay said today that security forces had detained eight suspects following the attack in the village of Bilge, near the city of Mardin.
The attack appeared to be the result of a blood feud and not a terrorist attack, Mr Atalay said. Blood feuds are common among families in the region where tribal ties and rivalries sometimes eclipse the power of the state.
Private NTV television, citing Deputy Governor Ferhat Ozen, said the motive for the attack could be a feud between rival groups of pro-government village guards who fight alongside Turkish troops against Kurdish rebels in the region. If that is the case, the government would come under renewed pressure to rein in the militiamen, some of whom have been linked to drug smuggling and other crimes.
Mr Atalay had earlier said that 45 people were killed, but later corrected the death toll to 44. He said the dead included six children.
Mehmet Besir Ayanoglu, the mayor of Mardin, told Channel 24 that he spoke to two survivors, both girls, who said at least two masked men stormed a house where the wedding was taking place.
“They raided the house, we were in two rooms, they opened fire on everyone, they were wearing masks,” Mr Ayanoglu quoted the girls as saying.
The attack happened during the wedding of the daughter of Cemil Celebi, a former village official who was among the wounded.
The bride, Sevgi Celebi, the groom, Habib Ari, his mother and sister were all killed, as was the Islamic cleric who was presiding over the marriage. The Anatolia news agency said the attack lasted for 15 minutes.
Ahmet Can, a relative who took the body of his nephew to a hospital, said the sight of the attack was horrifying.
“You could not believe your eyes, it is unbelievable,” he told Channel 24.
Earlier reports said the assailants hurled hand grenades but local official Aytac Akgul said they had attacked with automatic weapons only.
An entire family was killed, including the parents and six children, aged between three and 12.
One survivor, a 19-year-old woman, said the assailants ordered people to huddle in one room and opened fire, NTV said. Another report said the attack occurred when people were praying at the house. Some guards responded to the attack but the assailants fled, NTV said.
Ambulances took at least 17 bodies to the morgue of a hospital in Mardin, said Aytac Akgul, a local official. Hundreds of relatives of the victims gathered there, wailing in distress. Several people offered to donate blood.
State television said soldiers surrounded the village and cut all roads leading to it.