Turkish police have arrested 120 al Qaeda suspects in a major nationwide anti-terror operation. The arrests were made in coordinated pre-dawn raids in 16 provinces. It was not clear if Friday’s detentions would amount to a major blow to homegrown Islamic militants allegedly affiliated with al Qaeda.
The raids came after police seized documents disclosing details of extremist militant activity in Turkey. Friday’s raids netted weapons, fake identity cards, camouflage clothing and computer hard drives. Police would not comment on the arrests Friday.
Those detained included local leaders, university students and people believed to be spreading al Qaeda propaganda. A faculty member of Yuzunci Yil University in the eastern city of Van was among those detained. He was identified only by his initials, M.E.Y. He is suspected of recruiting students at the campus and other people through the Internet and sending them to Afghanistan for training.
Suspected leaders of al Qaeda cells in Turkey – including the local group’s leader, Serdar Elbasi, were reported among the detained.
Al Qaeda has been responsible for sporadic attacks in Turkey, such as multiple suicide bombings against the British Consulate, a branch of HSBC and two synagogues in Istanbul in 2003.
There are pockets of sympathy for jihadist Islam in parts of Turkey, but those pockets are small – numbering around 5,000 Salafi Muslims in total. (BBC) Al Qaeda’s austere and violent interpretation of Islam receives little public backing in Turkey.
“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 of Ankara. The operations were likely to continue.
Although Turkey is governed by a nationally Islamist party, the AKP, it takes a tough stand against all forms of terrorism. Several other radical Islamic groups are active in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim but officially secular country.
Turkey is a member of NATO and a long-standing US ally, despite more recent diplomatic overtures to Iran and Syria. The country’s security forces co-operate closely with the U.S., and are efficient in monitoring the activities of Islamic militants.