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Eight charged over Turkish wedding party massacre

Mardin — A Turkish court charged eight people on Wednesday, including a teenager, over a machine gun massacre at a Kurdish wedding party that left 44 people dead.

The suspects were among 10 people detained over Monday’s blood feud in the small village of Bilge in Mardin province, near the Syrian border, provincial governor Hasan Duruer told the Anatolia national news agency.

He gave no further details on the suspects or what charges were brought against them, but Anatolia reported that one of them was a 14-year-old.

Officials and locals had said Tuesday that the suspects hailed from the same village and were related to some of the victims.

Security forces have also detained two other suspects who were on the run after the attack, and were questioning them, Anatolia reported, without citing sources.

Once their interrogation is over, they will also be brought before a court to face possible charges or be released.

In an attack that shocked Turkey, masked assailants stormed into the village square from different directions late Monday and opened fire on the crowd just after a Muslim preacher had completed the wedding ceremony, witnesses told AFP.

The assailants then stormed several houses, continuing to shoot, they said, before escaping in the dark amid a sandstorm.

The bride, the groom, his parents and four-year-old sister as well as the village’s imam were all killed in the attack, authorities and witnesses said.

Six children and 15 other women, three of them pregnant, were among the dead. Anatolia reported that some 40 children had lost one or both parents in the attack.

Several survivors were quoted in newspapers as saying they had hidden under dead bodies until the assailants left.

"This (attack) was not just a random act or one carried out in a moment of madness. It was well planned-out brutality," Interior Minister Besir Atalay told reporters in Ankara a day after visiting the carnage site. "I spoke to an elderly relative of some of the victims in length who said there was a long-running grudge and jealousy between the two sides.”

Residents in Bilge, with a population of some 300, were still reeling from the carnage on Wednesday with women and children weeping and praying at the graves of victims dug out in rows by mechanic diggers a day before.

The motive for the attack remained unclear, but the mass-circulation Hurriyet daily reported that one of the suspects said in his interrogation that the attack stemmed from objections to the marriage.

"A member of the bride’s family had raped a girl from our side. We demanded that the bride be given to our family in marriage. They refused to do that and in fact gave the girl to a family that is an enemy to us," the suspect was quoted as saying.

"If we had not killed everyone, including children, they would have killed members of our own family as a result of the blood feud. We decided to kill them all and eradicate the whole family so as not to leave anyone to take revenge on us," he added.

Villagers also suggested an argument over land turned into trout farms or an unpaid debt as possible motives.

Blood feuds are frequent in Turkey’s Kurdish-populated regions, where feudal traditions are strong, illiteracy is high and many see the gun as a legitimate tool to settle scores.

Critics slammed the easy access to weapons in the region, blamed on a government policy of arming Kurdish villagers to back the army against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a separatist campaign in the southeast since 1984.

Many men in Bilge were members of the village guard, including the suspected attackers, locals said.

Critics have long urged the abolition of the militia, arguing that it has stoked the crime rate in the restive region, where the PKK insurgency has claimed about 45,000 lives.

Official statistics show that hundreds of village guards have been linked to murders, kidnapping, drug trafficking and rapes.

Burak Akinci/AFP/Expatica