Saturday, January 23, 2010

120 Al Qaeda Suspects Held in Turkey

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish police on Friday rounded up 120 people suspected of links to the Al Qaeda terror network in simultaneous pre-dawn raids in 16 provinces, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.

It was not clear if Friday's detentions would amount to a major blow to homegrown Islamic militants allegedly affiliated with Al Qaeda. Turkey has carried out similar raids against alleged Al Qaeda suspects in the past year.

The arrests follows another raid on suspected militants in the cities Ankara and Adana last week in which police rounded up and interrogated some 40 people and reportedly seized documents detailing Al Qaeda activities. Twenty-five of them were charged with membership in a terrorist organization while the rest were released.

"Each operation against Al Qaeda leads to new information and widens the net," said Nihat Ali Ozcan, a terrorism expert at the Economic Policy Research Institute in Ankara. He said the operations were likely to continue.

Those detained Friday include a faculty member of the Yuzunci Yil University in the eastern city of Van, who is suspected of recruiting students at the campus and other people through the Internet and of sending them to Afghanistan for training, Anatolia reported, citing unnamed police officials. The suspect was identified by his initials M.E.Y. only.

Anatolia said other suspects included some local leaders, university students, and people believed to be spreading Al Qaeda propaganda.

Police seized documents and computer hard-disks during Friday's raids, it said.

Police would not comment on the arrests Friday.

Homegrown Islamic militants tied to the Al Qaeda carried out suicide bombings in Istanbul, killing 58 people in 2003.

The targets were the British consulate, a British bank and two Jewish synagogues. In 2008, an attack blamed on Al Qaeda-affiliated militants outside the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul left three assailants and three policemen dead.

Turkish authorities have said dozens of Islamic militants have received training in Afghanistan.

However, Al Qaeda's austere and violent interpretation of Islam receives little public backing in Turkey.

Several other radical Islamic groups are active in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim but officially secular country.

In June, Turkey's court of appeals upheld life sentences for six militants accused in the 2003 deadly bombings, including Syrian Loa'i Mohammad Haj Bakr al-Saqa, who was charged with masterminding the bombings. The court sentenced 33 others to between three years nine months and 18 years.

It acquitted 15 of the suspects, citing a lack of evidence.

Hundreds of other suspected militants are on trial for membership in a terror organization.


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