Eight men suspected of gunning down 44 people during a wedding ceremony in southeastern Turkey were arrested Tuesday and accused of killing the couple, whose wedding they opposed, along with relatives and friends, in a 15-minute rampage. Monday's attack is one of the worst involving civilians in Turkey's modern history.
Traumatized survivors of the massacre along with relatives of the victims waited outside the region's main hospital for news of their loved ones.
Ambulances brought the dead and injured to the hospital throughout the night. What was meant to be an evening of joy and celebration turned into a massacre, when at least six masked gunman entered the remote village where the wedding ceremony was taking place.
According to witnesses, the gunmen who were armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades, opened fire on the 200 people attending the wedding. More than a dozen children and women, including the bride, were killed the attack in Bilge, a village of a few hundred people in Turkey's conservative heartland.
One witness described what happened.
My sister, her husband and other relatives died. All together 44 people lost their lives, he said. The wedding couple put their wedding rings on and as the evening prayers started people started firing through windows and the door.
Another witness said the gunmen rounded up women and children and then executed them.
The region where the attack occurred is the center of a more than 20-year conflict between the Turkish state and Kurdish rebels fighting for autonomy.
Initially it was thought the massacre was part of that conflict. But Interior minister Besir Atalay, who flew to the region following the attack, said that was unlikely.
According to our first inspections ; this happened because of a feud within the family, he said. But our efforts to find out what happened are continuing. I can't be more specific at the moment.
While the scale of Monday's killing has shocked this predominently Muslim country of 70 million, experts say dozens are killed in rural Turkey every year in "blood for blood" vendettas passed from generations over land disputes, grazing rights or matters of family honor.
It is believed the attack was triggered by the rejection of marriage by the bride-to-be of another member of the local clan. After intense security operations, eight people have been detained. Some reports say they include relatives of those killed.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the attack.
To aim a gun against people who are happily celebrating a wedding; to massacre defenseless people including children aged three, even one, is evil beyond words, beyond humanity, Erdogan said. No tradition, no understanding can justify such a killing.
The village is believed to be part of a local militia group with local people armed by the state to fight against the Kurdish insurgency. Up to 70,000 people have been provided with weapons by the initiative. Some of those guns are believed to have been used in the attack. These killings are expected to lead to calls for greater control of arms distribution, or even a ban. Observers says the wedding massacre is a tragic combination of ancient customs and modern weapons.