A Turkish organizer of a pro-Palestinian aid flotilla admitted on Thursday to seizing weapons from Israeli soldiers who stormed the boats, but said activists beat the soldiers only in self defense.
Bulent Yildirim, who was deported from Israel along with hundreds of other foreigners who tried breaching an Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, said activists grabbed weapons from the soldiers who dropped onto the vessel, but then threw them into the sea.
Yildirim also said that the activists attacked the Israeli commandos with chairs and sticks in self defense. Nine of the activists were killed in the operation on Monday and several more wounded when Israeli commandos opened fire on the ship. Seven soldiers were also wounded in the incident.
Even if the activists had turned the soldiers' guns on them it would have been in legitimate self defense, said Yildirim, adding that the raid on Monday was conducted in international waters.
The Israeli commandos said that the activists surrounded and attacked them as they entered the ship and also say they acted in self-defense
Yildirim vowed to organize bigger convoys by land and sea if Israel did not end the blockade of Gaza.
The Turkish Islamic charity that Yildirim heads has been linked by various sources to terrorism networks, including Al-Qaida and Hamas.
Former French judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere said Thursday that Istanbul-based Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief.was connected to a 1999 plot by Al-Qaida to bomb Los Angeles International Airport.
The group had "clear, long-standing ties to terrorism" when he investigated it in the late 1990s, Bruguiere, saying it was "basically helping al-Qaida when bin Laden started to want to target U.S. soil."
The group vehemently denies any ties to radical groups and is not among some 45 groups listed as terrorists by the U.S. State Department. "We have nothing to do with any illegal organization," declared one of its leaders.