Page last updated at 15:39 GMT, Friday, 22 January 2010

Turkey police arrest 120 al-Qaeda suspects


Turkish police have arrested 120 al-Qaeda suspects in a major nationwide anti-terror operation, reports say.

The arrests were made in co-ordinated pre-dawn raids in 16 provinces, said the state-run Anatolia news agency.

Those detained include an alleged militant recruiter who worked at a university in the eastern city of Van, Anatolia quoted police as saying.

It added the raids came after police seized documents disclosing details of extremist militant activity in Turkey.

Friday morning's raids netted weapons, fake identity cards and camouflage clothing, unnamed police officials said.

Suspected leaders of al-Qaeda cells in Turkey - including the local group's leader, Serdar Elbasi - were reportedly among those detained.

Afghanistan link

The raids, which took place in cities including Ankara and Istanbul, came after 33 suspected al-Qaeda members were arrested in Ankara and Adana earlier this week.

Jonathan Head
By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Istanbul
Little is known about al-Qaeda's structure in Turkey, but it is believed to be weak. In 2009 the police reportedly launched three raids against the movement's cells. There were similar raids in 2008.

Some Turkish al-Qaeda members have been killed or captured in neighbouring Iraq, and some are known to have been trained in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda militants in Turkey are believed to come from Arab countries, the Caucasus and central Asia.

Terrorist attacks are not uncommon in Turkey, but there are a number of potential culprits. The PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) is blamed for some.

Extreme leftist groups used to carry out armed attacks, but have been inactive recently.

Reports suggest those detained may have been involved in plots to kill Turkish soldiers serving in Afghanistan or police in Turkey.

Turkish police occasionally carry out such raids against other Islamist groups and suspected Kurdish militants.

Al-Qaeda has been held 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.

Sixty-three people died, including British Consul-General Roger Short. Seven people, including one Syrian citizen, were jailed in 2007 over the attacks.

Although Turkey is governed by a notionally Islamist party, the AKP, it takes a tough stand against all forms of terrorism.

There are pockets of sympathy for jihadist Islam in parts of Turkey - numbering around 5,000 Salafi Muslims in total - but these pockets are small.

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 US, and are efficient in monitoring the activities of Islamic militants.

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