Turkish Hezbollah

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Turkish Hezbollah

LEADER: Huseyin Velioglu

USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Mainly in southeastern Turkey


The Turkish Hezbollah is a radical Islamic group with no known links to the Hezbollah group based in Lebanon. Variations of the spelling of Hezbollah (which translates to Party of God) include Hizbollah and Hizballah, and the group has been called Ilim and Kurdish Revolutionary Hizballah.


The Turkish Hezbollah is a violent radical Kurdish Islamic group established in the 1980s, with the objective of establishing a separate Islamic state in Turkey. The group began by fighting against the communist Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) and the Kurdish separatist movement. Hezbollah is primarily made up of Kurdish Sunni Muslims, and is predominantly active in the heavily Kurdish regions of southeastern Turkey. The Turkish Hezbollah has no apparent direct links to the radical Islamic groups in Lebanon or Iran, which are also called Hezbollah.

The group received its initial military training in the camps of the communist Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK). The cooperation between PKK and Hezbollah did not last long. Hezbollah accused the PKK of killing Muslims, working with the Armenians, and having communist tendencies. Hezbollah also accused PKK of trying to divide the Muslim community.

Hezbollah began its attacks in 1984 by targeting members of pro-PKK political parties, newspaper workers, and leading Kurdish figures. The group killed over 500 people in the PKK and other Kurdish groups. Hezbollah became well known for its distinct method of assassinations carried out in broad daylight. Operatives killed more than 1,000 people in street shootings between 1992 and 1995.

In the middle of the 1990s, Hezbollah began targeting brothels, liquor stores, and other places considered by the group to be promoting anti-Islamic livelihoods. The group also began targeting moderate Muslims and others who refused to give money to Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is known to use kidnapping, torture, and killing against its targets. Victims' bodies are often mutilated. Victims have been buried alive by the group. The group has made video recordings of its activities. Operatives have dressed as women to avoid suspicion while carrying out their activities.

As the group gained strength in the 1990s, Hezbollah began to move into other parts of Turkey, including Istanbul. Mosques and safe houses were used as places to spread the group's message, recruit members, and house militants and equipment. Bookstores were also set up as places to distribute religious information and Islamic publications.

An attack in 1997 on the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople was one of the first incidents that gave Hezbollah widespread attention, as the Patriarchate was a spiritual leader for millions of Orthodox Christians throughout the world. A 2000 attack that killed five police officers in southeastern Turkey gave the group further attention.

Hezbollah has stated that its financial and logistical support comes from contributions from small businesses and other donations. However, the organization gets much of its financial and logistical support through extortion. More than 200 Kurdish businessmen who were connected to other Islamic groups were kidnapped during the second half of 1999.

Two main factions within the Hezbollah organization were the cause of internal conflicts that resulted in the death of over 400 people. The factions disagreed on how to go about implementing the goal of an Islamic state in Turkey. The Ilimciler (translated to the Scientists) was the larger of the factions, and it advocated an armed struggle with the use of violence to implement an Islamic state in Turkey. The Menzilciler (translated to the Rangers) argued that it was too early for an armed struggle, and that a more intellectual approach should be tried first. The Ilimciler came out stronger, particularly after the death of the Menzilciler leader.

Hezbollah had a relatively low profile in Turkish politics until January 2000, when the Ilimciler leader, Huseyin Velioglu, was killed and two other operatives were captured during a police operation in Istanbul. The captured men were used as informants by the Turkish police. This led to a year of police raids throughout Turkey. Many of the group's victims were found, and information about the group was uncovered. The magnitude of the group's brutality was recognized through the numerous video recordings that were confiscated. Hundreds of Hezbollah members were arrested. Hundreds of other Hezbollah members escaped to Iran and northern Iraq.

The media revealed links between the Turkish Hezbollah and the Iranian government in the spring of 2000. One newspaper, Hurriyet, published pictures of Velioglu meeting with officials in the Iranian capital, Tehran. Velioglu was reported to have an Iranian foreign staff officer identification card. Documents were cited, explaining the training Hezbollah received in Iran. It was also reported in the Turkish media that captured Hezbollah members revealed that they received training and support from an ethnic Turkish Sunni group based in Iran called the Jerusalem Warriors. The Jerusalem Warriors are on the U.S. Terrorist Exclusion List.

The uncovering of Hezbollah marked the first time the Turkish public witnessed violent Islamic movements similar to those in Egypt, Algeria, and Israel. The government of Turkey proceeded to recognize violent religious activism as an imminent challenge to its social order.

In 2003, Hezbollah members killed more than sixty people in attacks against two synagogues, a British bank, and the British Consulate in Istanbul. Those arrested are said to have had direct orders from al-Qaeda to carry out the attacks.



Huseyin Velioglu was the original leader of the Turkish Hezbollah. He attended the same University as the leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan. Velioglu was a Sunni Kurdish Islamist who was against the revolutionary teachings of the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini. Velioglu was also anti-Shi'ite. Despite his weak religious background and training, Velioglu served as a spiritual and political leader for the Turkish Hezbollah. He was killed in January 2000 during a police operation that captured two other Hezbollah operatives in Istanbul.


The Hezbollah organization has named its enemies as those they consider to be infidels, or unbelievers of Islam, as well as those who do not share their convictions. Hezbollah operates with the philosophy that religious piety comes through torturing and killing its enemies. Such violent acts are condoned and required in the Hezbollah interpretation of the Islamic faith. Hezbollah has opposed every group that does not have the same viewpoints on Islam, as they believe their path is the true path.

The Hezbollah radicalism has ties to the idea of "Modern Kharijites." Kharijites created the first rebellion against rulers of the Islamic world, with an uncompromising set of Islamic principles. Kharijites divided the Islamic world, declaring a jihad (holy war) against all nonbelievers and those they accused of being apostate Muslims.

Hezbollah is known for its extreme violence and brutality. Activities of the group included torture, shootings, arson, beatings, and attacks with acid on women who are not dressed in an Islamic manner. These extreme tactics are used to purposely inflict pain on victims, and to persuade them of the validity of the Hezbollah cause.

Secrecy has been a trademark of Hezbollah as well. The group never tried excessively to get attention. Many times, the group carried out its planned activities without making claims for attacks.

A two-level process is employed by Hezbollah to reach its objective of developing a separate Islamic state. The first step is the invitation process to build up supporters. Then, when there are enough supporters, the group begins to deal with other organizations in the region. Those who choose not to join the struggle are targeted and killed. This approach has led to the deaths of Kurdish businessmen who support the secular government, as well as religious people who do not embrace the approach of violence. The group is not known to target people or structures of the Turkish government.

Hezbollah's ideology is not largely accepted in Turkey. Turkey has historically been composed of many different ethnic and cultural groups for centuries, and lies in the unique position between Europe and Asia. The Turkish government has attempted to incorporate different ways of thought, including Islamic voices, into its system. Hezbollah is not looking for a voice, but rather a system that is governed by the organization's Islamic philosophy.

Hezbollah is not considered an international terrorist organization, as it operates only inside Turkey. This is unlike the Lebanese Hezbollah, which has been active throughout the Middle East, Europe, Africa, North America, and South America. Another difference between the Lebanese and Turkish Hezbollah is that the group in Turkey operates in a very secretive manner, and does not have anything to do with everyday life in the community.

The Hezbollah members are generally economically and socially isolated from society. They typically come from lower income families, and many are not employed full-time. In general, the education level of Hezbollah members is low. Many members are Kurdish Sunni Muslims who are not supportive of the Kurdish separatist movement. Other Hezbollah groups throughout the Middle East are typically Shi'ite Muslims.


The group emerged as a reaction to the communist KurdishWorkers' Party (PKK) and to the Kurdish separatist movement.
Hezbollah targeted members of pro-PKK political parties, newspaper workers, and leading Kurdish figures.
An attack on the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople was one of the first incidents that gave Hezbollah widespread attention
A Turkish police raid revealed that Hezbollah members had brutally murdered dozens of people and had videotaped some of the killings.
Media reports in 2000 indicated that Iran's government has supported Hezbollah with funding and military training.
Sixty people died in Hezbollah attacks on two synagogues, a British bank, and the British Consulate in Istanbul

There are three tiers to the organizational structure of the Turkish Hezbollah organization. First is the leadership level. This is typically divided into two roles—spiritual leadership and political leadership. The spiritual leader gives support by providing religious motivation to all members. The political leader has all of the decision-making power, and can modify or change the directions of the group. Generally, these roles are held by two different individuals.

The second level is the top council (Sura), a central committee made up of high-ranking political and military members. The council discusses important military and political options, and then makes decisions for the organization.

Finally, there are lower-level councils in Turkish cities and towns. These councils are divided into military and political branches. The leader of a council's military branch is responsible for carrying out the armed operations of the group. There are unit leaders and operation teams within each military wing.

Turkish Hizballah


Turkish Hizballah is a Kurdish Sunni Islamic terrorist organization that arose in the early 1980s in response to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)'s secularist approach of establishing an independent Kurdistan. Turkish Hizballah spent its first ten years fighting the PKK, accusing the group of atrocities against Muslims in southeastern Turkey, where Turkish Hizballah seeks to establish an independent Islamic state.


Beginning in the mid-1990s, Turkish Hizballah, which is unrelated to Lebanese Hizballah, expanded its target base and modus operandi from killing PKK militants to conducting low-level bombings against liquor stores, bordellos, and other establishments the organization considered "anti-Islamic." In January 2000, Turkish security forces killed Huseyin Velioglu, the leader of Turkish Hizballah, in a shootout at a safe house in Istanbul. The incident sparked a year-long series of counterterrorist operations against the group that resulted in the detention of some 2,000 individuals; authorities arrested several hundred of those on criminal charges. At the same time, police recovered nearly seventy bodies of Turkish and Kurdish businessmen and journalists that Turkish Hizballah had tortured and brutally murdered during the mid-to-late 1990s. The group began targeting official Turkish interests in January 2001, when its operatives assassinated the Diyarbakir police chief in the group's most sophisticated operation to date. Turkish Hizballah did not conduct a major operation in 2003 or 2004 and probably is focusing on recruitment, fundraising, and reorganization.


Possibly a few hundred members and several thousand supporters.


Primarily the Diyarbakir region of southeastern Turkey.


It is widely believed that Turkey's security apparatus originally backed Turkish Hizballah to help the Turkish Government combat the PKK. Alternative views are that the Turkish Government turned a blind eye to Turkish Hizballah's activities because its primary targets were PKK members and supporters, or that the Government simply had to prioritize scarce resources and was unable to wage war on both groups simultaneously. Allegations of collusion have never been laid to rest, and the Government of Turkey continues to issue denials. Turkish Hizballah also is suspected of having ties with Iran, although there is not sufficient evidence to establish a link.

Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.

The political wing carries out the recruitment of new members and the dissemination of Hezbollah ideology. Members in the political wing are responsible for the preparation, printing, and dissemination of propaganda materials. Much of the recruitment takes place in schools and colleges. Information is also distributed in mosques and around villages and neighborhoods.


The Turkish government has been labeled as supportive, or once supportive, of the Turkish Hezbollah. There is a widely accepted theory that the government viewed Hezbollah as a tool to counter the Kurdish separatist movement and the PKK when it first came into existence. Nearly all of Hezbollah's victims have been from rival Islamic groups, or were PKK supporters. Hezbollah has rarely attacked government forces, an indication of the government's current or former support for the organization.

Further evidence for collaboration came about when it was discovered in the mid 1990s that Hezbollah was using weapons secretly imported by a Turkish governor. Additionally, when the PKK called a truce in 1999, Turkish forces began targeting Hezbollah, as they were no longer needed to counter the PKK.

In 2000, Turkish President Suleyman Demirel denied that official support was ever given to Hezbollah. Other theories suggest that Hezbollah did not attack government targets, because the group wanted to avoid direct confrontation with the government and any attempts to stop the group's activities.

It has also been widely accepted that the government of Iran supported the Turkish Hezbollah with funding and ideological and military training. This is the same type of support given by Iran to the Lebanese Hezbollah. The Iranian government has denied supporting the Turkish Hezbollah.

Evidence of Velioglu holding meetings and working in Tehran also gives evidence to Hezbollah's relationship with Iran. However, Velioglu did disassociate himself with ideology in Iran, by speaking out against the revolutionary teachings of the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini was also a Shi'ite Muslim.


The Turkish Hezbollah is said to have an estimated 20,000 members. The group is responsible for over 1,000 attacks, and hundreds of deaths. In the beginning, the group primarily targeted Kurdish Nationalists who were fighting for a state independent of Turkey. The group grew larger, and began a broader struggle against what it considered anti-Islamic targets.

The events in 2000 were a blow for the group, with the death of their leader, Velioglu. Many other Hezbollah members were arrested in raids the same year. However, the group remains active, as evidenced by the 2003 bombings of synagogues and British offices in Istanbul, which killed sixty.

Many of the Hezbollah members who escaped to Iran after Veliogla's death are said to be aligned with Iranian Islamist groups such as Ansar al Islam. Other Hezbollah members are said to have formed ties with al-Qaeda.



Aras, Bulent, and Gokhan Bacik. "Hezbollah Horror: A National Shame." The Middle East Quarterly. June 2000: vol. 9, i. 2, p. 147.

Aydintasbas, Asli. "Murder on the Bosporus." Middle East Quarterly. June 2000: vol. 7, i. 2, p. 15.

Gorvett, Jon. "The Mystery of Turkish Hizballah." Middle East Policy March 2000.

Web sites

BBC News World Edition. "Turkey Charges 'Key Bomb Suspect.'" 〈http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3333501.stm〉 (accessed October 5, 2005).

BBC News World Europe. "Turkish Hezbollah: 'No State Links.'" 〈http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/615785.stm〉 (accessed October 5, 2005).

Center for DefenseInformation. "In the Spotlight: Turkish Hezbollah." 〈http://www.cdi.org/program/document.cfm/〉 (accessed October 5, 2005).

International Strategic Research Organization—Journal of Turkish Weekly. "Turkish Hizballah: A Case Study of Radical Terrorism." 〈http://www.turkishweekly.net/articles.php?id=28〉 (accessed October 5, 2005).

National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism—Terrorism Knowledge Base. "Turkish Hezbollah." 〈http://www.tkb.org/KeyLeader.jsp?memID=5922〉 (accessed October 5, 2005).