Eight held after gun attack kills 44 at engagement party

Eight gunmen accused of killing 44 people including the bride and groom to be at an engagement ceremony in rural Turkey were being questioned by police today.

Eight gunmen accused of killing 44 people including the bride and groom to be at an engagement ceremony in rural Turkey were being questioned by police today.

Masked men with automatic weapons attacked the celebration yesterday in the village of Bilge, near the city of Mardin, in what appeared to be the result of a family feud, Interior Minister Besir Atalay said.

Blood feuds occasionally happen among families in the region, where tribal ties and rivalries can eclipse the power of the state.

The dead included the engaged couple, six children and 16 women. Six other people were wounded. Two girls survived after the bodies of friends fell on top of them. Reports said the gunmen opened fire as men and women prayed in separate rooms in line with tradition in parts of Turkey.

Turkish media initially described the gathering as “dugun,” a term for a wedding celebration. However they later used the term “nisan,” which refers to an engagement ceremony.

Mr Atalay said eight suspects were in custody, and that some of their family names were the same as those of the victims.

“They were caught with their weapons,” he said. “The first indications are that it was the result of disputes, of animosity among relatives, within a family in the village.”

One report said the attack may have been because one of the gunmen wanted to marry the engaged woman himself and he opposed the marriage. It said there was a family tie between the attackers and the couple who were killed.

Another said the attack could be a feud between rival groups of pro-government village guards, who fight alongside Turkish troops against Kurdish rebels. Like many other villages in the region, Bilge has a number of guards.

Mehmet Besir Ayanoglu, the mayor of Mardin, spoke to two survivors, both girls, who said at least two masked men stormed a house where the ceremony took place.

“They raided the house, we were in two rooms, they opened fire on everyone, they were wearing masks,” they said. The girls said they lay underneath the bodies of friends until the attack was over.

The attack came during the engagement ceremony of the daughter of Cemil Celebi, a former village official who was among the wounded. His daughter, Sevgi Celebi, her fiance, Habib Ari, his mother and sister were all killed, as was the Islamic cleric who was presiding over the ceremony.

For years, Turkey has struggled to trim the 70,000-strong Village Guard force without releasing masses of trained fighters onto the streets of the south-east, where unemployment in some areas is 50%.

The military has removed thousands of village guards suspected of favouring Kurdish rebels fighting for autonomy in the south-east. Several hundred guards have also faced criminal charges.

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