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Turkish Muslim militant admits visiting Iran, denies receiving aid

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, Sept 11 (AFP) - A suspected Turkish Muslim militant told a court here Monday that he had visited Iran, a country Turkey accuses of aiding extreme Islamist groups, but denied receiving any support there.

"I went to Iran three times out of personal curiosity. I did not receive any political or military training there and did not meet with any (Iranian) officials," Edip Gumus, a suspected commander of the Turkish Hizbullah, told a state security court in this southeastern city.

The prosecution seeks the death penalty for Gumus and 12 other suspects on charges of trying to overthrow Turkey's secular government with violent activities that have claimed 156 lives.

The indictment accused Iran of providing political and military training, as well as financial aid, to members of the hardline Islamic group, within Tehran's policy "to export the Islamic revolution", a charge Tehran has flatly denied.

Gumus and another high-ranking Hizbullah commander, Cemal Tutar, were captured in January in a shootout with police in Istanbul. The organization's leader, Huseyin Velioglu, was killed in the melee.

Gumus admitted Monday he had met with Velioglu in Iran, but denied being a member of Hizbullah's military wing.

"I only participated in archive work," he said.

Gumus also said he was tortured by police during the six days he spent in detention after his capture.

The prosecution says Velioglu "had contacts with Iran's Revolutionary Guards, went to Iran many times, and received military and political training there."

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said in May that "some separatist groups in Turkey and others exploiting religion have benefitted from Iran's hospitality or have used for themselves its tendency to export the revolution."

Two other defendants risk up to 15 years in jail in the same case for being members in an armed group working against Turkey's secular system.

Hizbullah was founded in the early 1980s with an initial aim of countering armed Kurdish rebels fighting for self-rule in southeast Turkey. It is not believed to have any links with the Lebanese guerrilla group of the same name.

Following the January shootout in Istanbul, police launched a nationwide crackdown against Hizbullah, rounding up hundreds of suspected group members and discovering the bodies of 68 people kidnapped and murdered by the group across Turkey.

Turkish authorities hold Hizbullah responsible in all for more than 480 murders committed between 1991 and 1999.


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