Dozens killed as gunmen open fire at wedding reception in Turkey

11:01, 05 May 2009
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Masked assailants attacked guests with automatic rifles

Forty-four people were killed when gunmen opened fire at a wedding reception in south-eastern Turkey last night in what is believed to have been the bloody denoument of a blood feud between rival families, The Guardian reported.

Ahmet Ferhat Ozen, the acting governor of Mardin province, told Reuters that the masked assailants had stormed a hall in the village of Sultankoy and attacked guests with automatic rifles and hand grenades.

The Turkish interior minister, Besir Atalay, said the most likely cause of the attack was a feud between families. Eight suspects had been detained, he added.

Mehmet Besir Ayanoglu, the mayor of Mardin, told Turkey`s Channel 24 that he had spoken to two survivors of the attack, both girls.

"They raided the house ... we were in two rooms – they opened fire on everyone, they were wearing masks," Ayanoglu quoted the girls as saying.

The survivors said they lay underneath the bodies of friends until the attack was over.

Local media said the families of both the bride and the groom included members of the state-sponsored Village Guard militia, which was set up to combat Kurdish separatist guerrillas in the area.

The fate of the bride and groom is not known.

Turkish soldiers and pro-government village guards have been fighting Kurdish guerrillas in the region for years.

One Turkish television news channel, NTV, said the attack stemmed from a feud between rival groups of the Village Guard militia.

"There were a few people ... they broke into the house and started spraying the place with bullets, hitting both men and women," an unnamed female witness told Reuters.

"Their faces were covered with masks."

The woman said around 200 people had been attending the wedding party.

An entire family, including six children aged between three and 12, died in the attack.

One survivor, a 19-year-old woman, said the attackers ordered people to huddle in one room and opened fire, NTV reported. It said the attackers had fled the scene.

Another report said the attack had happened as people prayed at the house.

Ozen said many more people had been wounded, adding that the number of dead could rise. He said paramilitary police had been dispatched to the village to hunt down the attackers.

According to the Cihan news agency, the injured were taken to hospital in Mardin, where they were visited by the city`s chief of police.

Ahmet Can, a relative who took the body of his nephew to a hospital, said the scene of the attack was horrifying. "You could not believe your eyes," he told Turkey`s Channel 24.

State television said soldiers surrounded the village and cut all roads leading to it. It said there was no power in the village, which could not be reached by telephone.

Kurdistan Workers` party (PKK) rebels have been fighting Turkish forces in the south-east of the country in the battle for a Kurdish homeland since 1984.

About 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, have been killed in the conflict. However, few individual incidents associated with the conflict have produced death toll as high as the wedding shooting.

Last week, Turkey suffered its worst outbreak of political violence in months when nine soldiers died in an explosion blamed on Kurdish militants and a female suicide bomber tried to assassinate a former government minister.

The soldiers died when a roadside bomb blew up their armoured vehicle near the town of Lice, in the mainly Kurdish south-east.

They had been scouring the area ahead of a large military convoy when the device went off.

The army chief of staff, General Ilker Basbug, said the bomb was home-made and had been detonated by remote control or cable.

Basbug did not blame any group, but the attack was widely assumed to have been carried out by the PKK, which is classified by Turkey, the US and the EU as a terrorist organisation.

It was the deadliest assault by Kurdish rebels since last October, when 17 soldiers were killed in an attack on a military outpost near the Iraqi border.

The Guardian

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