Turkish Government Released From Prison In 2019 Dozens Of Iran-Backed Hizbullah Hitmen Responsible For Over 100 Killings In Turkey

MESOP MIDEAST WATCH MEIRI Inquiry and Analysis Series No. 1636

By: A. Smith –  Recently in Turkey there have been reports that in 2019, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government released from prison at least 32 men who had been sentenced to life in prison for their involvement in over 100 murders and membership in a group that in Turkish is referred to simply as “Hizbullah,

” but to avoid confusion with the Lebanese group by the same name, is in English alternatively called Kurdish Hizbullah, Turkish Hizbullah, and Hizbullah in Turkey. The oft-repeated conventional wisdom is that this Turkish organization has no relationship to the better-known Iran-backed Lebanese organization by the same name. Several facts indicate tht this is not the case, and that Hizbullah in Turkey has received funding, logistical support, and training from the Iranian government.  

This analysis will review: the Turkish government’s release of Hizbullah members convicted of murder; the Turkish opposition’s response to news of the release; evidence of Iranian funding, logistical support, and training for Hizbullah in Turkey; and some of the activity of Hizbullah in Turkey today.

2019 Release Of Mehmet Salih Kölge, Deputy To Hizbullah Leader Hüseyin Velioğlu, 31 Other Men Responsible For 157 Operations Resulting In 91 Deaths

On April 25, 2022, Turkish journalist Özgür Cebe reported that right before the March 31, 2019 local elections, the Turkish government released from prison one Mehmet Salih Kölge, who had been the deputy of Hüseyin Velioğlu, the leader of Hizbullah in Turkey who was killed in a shootout with police in Istanbul on January 17, 2000.

Kölge had been given an “aggravated” life sentence in prison for ordering the killing of 91 people between 1992 and 2001 and for attending interrogations that involved torture and “hogtying.” The court was unanimous in confirming the ruling at the time, and said that he was responsible for giving orders and instructions for 157 armed incidents in which 91 people were killed and 66 others were injured in the Turkish cities of Gaziantep, Şırnak, Mardin, and Batman.

Kölge reportedly discovered the Hizbullah organization while working in a bookshop in the city of Nusaybin in Turkey’s Mardin province. In a short time, he rose in the organization to reach its shura (i.e., high council), and worked in the information-processing center in safe houses connected to Velioğlu “to upload encrypted documents to computers.” Kölge was at the shura at which it was decided that Diyarbakir Security Director Gaffar Okkan, who was known for his robust stance on policing Diyarbakır and whom the organization held responsible for the death of its leader Hüseyin Velioğlu, would be assassinated. On January 24, 2001, in Diyarbakır, as many as 10 attackers using long-barreled rifles and intersecting fields of fire participated in the assassination of Okkan, which resulted in the deaths of Okkan as well as four bodyguards, Sabri Gün, Mehmet Sepetçi, Atilla Durmuş, and Selahattin Baysoy, and one administrator, Mehmet Kamalı. Thousands of people attended Okkan’s funeral, and the BBC and CNN reported on the assassination at the time.