The IDF has identified one of the passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara , which navy commandos commandeered earlier this week, as the ringleader of a group of mercenaries who were recruited from a city in northwest Turkey, according to new details from the military’s ongoing investigation of the Gaza flotilla.

The IDF identified a group of about 50 men – of the 700 on board – who were well-trained and were stationed throughout the ship, mostly on the upper deck, where they laid an ambush for the IDF soldiers who rappelled onto the deck from helicopters.

The members of this violent group were not carrying identity cards or passports. Instead, each of them had an envelope in his pocket with about $10,000 in cash. The defense establishment suspects the funding for the mercenaries may have come from elements within the Turkish government.

According to sources within the defense establishment, one member of the group, who appears to have been the ringleader, traveled to the city of Bursa in northwest Turkey and allegedly recruited mercenaries for the flotilla there.

In videos from the Marmara released this week by the IDF, this group of men can be seen preparing to confront IDF commandos. The videos, taken by the ship’s security cameras, show the group of activists brandishing metal bars, slingshots, and other assorted weaponry.

The group was split up into smaller squads that were distributed throughout the deck and communicated with one another with handheld communication devices. The men wore bulletproof vests and gas masks.

One video clearly shows a member of the group throwing a stun grenade onto the IDF commando vessel that pulled up alongside the Marmara. Another video shows how groups of at least four or five men swarmed each commando that landed on the top deck, beating them with metal bars, and in one case throwing a soldier off the third deck.

Soldiers testified that in at least two instances their sidearms were taken from them, as were their helmets and vests. Two soldiers jumped off the ship into the water to save themselves from being lynched.

On Wednesday, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i told a Knesset hearing that all nine men killed on the Marmara were “involved in the fighting.”

“There were no innocents among the dead,” Vilna’i said.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Media Watch reported Thursday that three of the four Turks killed on ship sought a martyr’s death.

PMW quoted from the official Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat al-Jadida:

“Three of the four Turks killed in the Israeli attack on the ‘Freedom Flotilla’ bound for the Gaza Strip wanted to die as martyrs, said their relatives and friends. The wife of one of them, Ali Haydar Bengi, told the Vatan daily: “He used to help the poor and the oppressed. For years, he wanted to go to Palestine. And he constantly prayed to Allah to grant him shahada (martyrdom).

“Ali worked at telephone repair shop in Diyarbakir, the largest city in southeastern Turkey. Sabir Ceylan, a friend of Ali, told the Milliyet newspaper: ‘Before embarking on this journey [to Gaza], he said he desired to become a martyr. He had a strong desire to die as a martyr.’


“Another Turkish victim was Ali Ekber Yaratilmis, a 55-year old pensioner. He was a father of five who lived in Ankara. Ali volunteered for the Turkish Aid and Human Rights Organization [IHH], which transfers aid to Gaza. A friend, Mehmet Faruk Cevher, told the Sabah daily that [Ali] ‘devoted his life to charity work, that’s why he went to Gaza. He always wanted to become a martyr.’

“The third victim was Ibrahim Bilgen, a 61-year old pensioner and father of six sons. He was a supporter of the Felicity Party, an Islamic movement in the southeastern city of Siirt, Anatolia news agency reported. His brother-in-law, Nuri Mergen, told the agency: He was an exemplary man and a truly good man. That’s why he was truly worthy of shahada (martyrdom). Allah granted him the death that he wished for.’”

Palestinian Media Watch reported in the last two days that participants on board were chanting Islamic battle cries and talking about their coming martyrdom during the days before the confrontation.

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