Turkey Weighs Potential Al-Qaida Threat
Ankara (UPI) -- Turkey's arrest of 14 suspected al-Qaida activists has returned spotlight to a dangerously volatile standoff between the terrorist network and NATO's eastern flank at a time of worsening ties between Ankara and radical Kurdish groups and a continuing uncertainty of the outcome in Syria.
Turkey faced many years of inflammatory al-Qaida invective for maintaining relations with Israel, attacks that eased somewhat after last year's Israeli raid on a Turkish humanitarian flotilla to Gaza, which killed nine people and left several dozen wounded.
That respite was short-lived and al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri resumed condemnation of Ankara for joining the coalition force in Afghanistan.
Turkish media speculated this week's arrests were likely linked to an al-Qaida plot to target the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, a point not confirmed or denied by Turkish police and security forces. U.S. sources in Washington said they were unaware of a plot to attack the diplomatic mission in central Ankara.
Security analysts said the arrests indicated an unwelcome development as the Turkish government already has its hands full of problems with Kurdish rebels and thousands of refugees streaming in from Syria, including Syrian Kurds.
Turkish Interior Ministry sources said security agents mounted raids in the Sincan district of Ankara and detained a suspected member of al-Qaida, seized numerous weapons and documents.
In other raids the security agents, apparently acting on fresh information, raided homes in Yalova, a city on the Sea of Marmara coast and Bursa in the northwest and seized another 13 suspects.
The arrests took place at about the same time as security forces continued operations to find two soldiers and a health officer abducted July 9, apparently by members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, in eastern Turkey.
Both the hunt for the kidnapped three and the investigation into al-Qaida activities were overshadowed by a ambush by the Kurdistan Workers' Party -- the PKK -- in Diyarbakir that left 13 Turkish soldiers and seven PKK fighters dead. PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and international organizations but it continues to seek a Kurdish state in eastern Turkey.
PKK is particularly annoyed that it hasn't fared as well as Iraqi Kurdistan after the fall of Saddam Hussein in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and subsequent power redistribution in northern Iraq.
Analysts said the key fact to establish after the arrests of the 14 suspects would be their al-Qaida connection. Nearly 1,550 pounds of unspecified chemicals were seized during the raids that yielded the men.
A possible clue so far was in a reported connection found to have been established between a "prime" terror suspect identified as "C.I." and a known but unidentified al-Qaida operative. The Anatolia news agency said "C.I." was under observation for six months, following last year's mass arrests of about 120 al-Qaida suspects. During this period, security forces seized another 10 al-Qaida suspects in southern Turkey. Little is known about the follow-up to those arrests.
Terrorist incidents in Turkey last year cost 22 lives and numerous injuries but the National Counter-Terrorism Center didn't specify al-Qaida's role in those 40 attacks.
Turkey's confrontation with al-Qaida took bizarre turns last year. Zawahiri in a 20-minute Arabic audio message posted on an Islamist Web site offered condolences to the families of Turkish activists killed by Israel during the raid on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla but condemned the Ankara government.
"The Turkish government shows sympathy with the Palestinians through statements or sending some relief aid, but actually recognizes Israel, engages in trade, carries out military training and shares information with it," Zawahiri said.
He called on Turks to pressure their government to end relations with Israel, warning, "The change will come when the Turkish people urge their government to stop co-operating with Israel ... or taking part in killing Muslims in Afghanistan."
That statement indicated al-Qaida sees the punishing of Turkey for its Israeli link as a continuing project, analysts said.