Interrogations of the Mavi Marmara passengers by Israeli intelligence officials revealed that the activists struggling with the naval commandos last week were members of an organized group that had prepared for a violent confrontation ahead of the raid, a report said. The group was said to be backed by the Turkish government and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The interrogations and their findings appear in a report released yesterday by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center, a private group with close links to the Israeli intelligence community.
The report is based on the questioning of the Mavi Marmara passengers, as well as searches conducted of the ship, the passengers and computers seized from the vessel.
According to the report, most of the 500 passengers who boarded ship in Anatolia were humanitarian activists and volunteers who underwent a security check before boarding. However another group of some 40 IHH activists had boarded the ship earlier in Istanbul and had kept themselves separate from the other passengers throughout the journey.
These activists did not go through security, and were equipped with walkie-talkies and ceramic flack jackets tagged with Turkish flags. They were apparently given stickers labeled "security," and set their headquarters on the top deck of the ship, where no other passengers were allowed. The group was organized into a clear command structure, with some of the activists commanding smaller units.
IHH director Bulent Yildirim, who was on board the Mavi Marmara, reportedly delivered a detailed briefing to the group some two hours before the Israeli commandos arrived. Their task was to repel the Israeli forces by any available means and push them back into the sea.
Although the ship's crew prohibited weapons on board, the IHH had prepared metal rods and chains in advance; the rods were said to have been sawed off from the deck's railings. One of the crew officers told his interrogators that the crew tried unsuccessfully to confiscate the saws from the IHH group. The group also commandeered all the knives from the six dining rooms on the ship, the axes from the firefighting kits and metal rods found in lifeboats. All of these items were later used to attack the Israel Navy commandos when they landed on board.
Before the takeover, all of the ship's passengers were requested to descend below deck, with the exception of the IHH activists and the journalists embedded with them remaining outside. These claims match testimony given by some of the passengers, who say they did not witness any violence because they were not allowed access to the actual scene of the confrontation.
Israeli commandos earlier said they were fighting a group of about 50 people who used any weapon they could get their hands on. Israeli intelligence clearly identified 8 out of the 9 passengers killed as IHH activists.
The report also says that files located on laptops taken from IHH activists who'd been on board testify to a clear connection between the group and officials from Erdogan's Justice and Development Party. Some reportedly told interrogators that Erdogan was personally involved in preparing the flotilla. According to the report, they said they knew that the chances of being allowed to reach Gaza were slim, and that their purpose was to show Israel's real face to the world.
"The Turks set a trap for you and you fell for it," one Turkish journalist and IHH member told his interrogators. He added that this was only the first flotilla and that more ships will be launched.