Killed flotilla passengers belonged to radical Islamist group

Most of the nine men killed on board the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara were members of Islamic movements, it has now emerged.

The majority belonged to Insan Hak ve Hurriyetleri, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, or IHH. The Turkish Islamist movement has ties to Hamas and al Qaida and financed and organised the ferry's trip.

Israel claims that many of the other passengers on the ferry had links to terrorist groups as well.

IDF officers who were involved in last week's operation say there were two groups of passengers.

Some passengers were paid mercenaries

"There were those who just sat there, some of them were shouting at us but they didn't get involved in any violence," said Captain A, who commanded one of the naval commando teams that took control of the boat. "But there was a group of between 50 and 100 who fought us and tried to kill. I can only call these people terrorists."

All the nine passengers killed were Turkish citizens and some of their family members have told the local press that "they wanted to die as Shahids".

This was the message that Cevdet Kiliclar, a 38-year old journalist who was editor of the IHH website, recorded a few days before his death.

Ibrahim Bilgen, at 61-years-old the oldest of those killed, was a local politician who belonged to the conservative Islamic Virtue Party, which had been outlawed by the Turkish constitutional court in 2001. Another older passenger killed was 54-year-old Cetin Topcuoglu, who had been the coach of Turkey's national Taekwondo team.

The rest of those killed were in the thirties and forties and known IHH volunteers, except for 19-year old Furkan Dogan, a high-school student with dual American citizenship whose parents claim that he had no history of political activism.

Israeli sources said this week that a group of hard-core IHH members had boarded the ferry separately from the rest of the passengers, carrying with them duffel bags filled with crowbars and knives.

"What we found there on the boat was an organised group, with command posts, flack jackets and gas masks, who were prepared for a battle," says Captain A. "We only used selective live-fire and I am convinced that the ones we hit were only those who were trying to kill us."

Large sums of money were found in cash in the possession of some of the Turkish passengers and Israeli intelligence believes that some of them were mercenaries paid to join the voyage and join the battle or help Hamas if the Marmara reached Gaza.

On Sunday, the IDF Spokesman published five names of Marmara passengers with alleged ties to terror groups. These included Kenneth O'Keefe, an American and Irish national and a former American Marine who, according to the IDF, was planning to join Hamas in Gaza to train a commando unit there. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, O'Keefe said he had met senior Hamas members in the past but rejected the allegations saying that "if they had a supposed terrorist in their possession, why the hell did they let me go?"

On the list published by the IDF were also two Turkish citizens, an American-Iranian woman and a Moroccan, all of whom had been involved in movements connected to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

    Last updated: 2:00pm, June 10 2010