Turkish authorities announced May 3 that 16 suspected members of an Islamic radical group have been taken into custody for allegedly plotting a terrorist attack to coincide with the upcoming NATO summit in Istanbul.
The 16 suspects were detained in the city of Bursa, roughly 160 miles (270 kilometers) south of Istanbul. The regional governor, Oguz Koksal, told journalists that the arrests followed a year-long surveillance operation, adding that the suspects were reportedly members of Ansar al-Islam, a radical group based in northern Iraq that may have ties to the al Qaeda terrorist network. In a serious of coordinated raids, Turkish officials found explosives, detonators and other equipment that could be used to mount terrorist bombings, Koksal said. In addition to the Bursa arrests, nine individual were briefly detained in Istanbul. A State Security Court ordered the release of the nine Istanbul suspects after investigators determined they were not linked to Ansar al-Islam, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Koksal maintained that the suspects in custody "were planning terrorist attacks during the NATO summit in Istanbul" scheduled for June 28-29. The Bursa governor added that the suspects also were planning to attack on a synagogue in the region, and were attempting to recruit individuals to "stage suicide attacks."
Meanwhile, Istanbul's governor Muammer Guler on May 3 suggested that there was no firm evidence that the suspects were specifically targeting the NATO gathering. At the same time, Guler stressed that "every kind of precaution" was being taken to protect summit participants, the Anatolia news agency reported. Leaders from the 26 NATO member states, including US President George W. Bush, are expected to participate in the summit. Top representatives from partner governments are also expected to attend.
The NATO summit has presented Turkey with daunting safety challenges. Ankara has worked hard to overcome international concern about the possibility of terrorist attacks, stemming from a series of bombings last November that killed 61 people and injured over 700. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The trial of 69 individuals charged in connection with those attacks is expected to begin May 31 in a State Security Court in Istanbul, according to the Anatolia news agency.
In what is widely viewed as another summit-related operation, Turkish authorities clamped down in early April on the Revolutionary People's Liberation Army-Front (DHKP-C), a Marxist group that is listed as a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States. In all, roughly 90 DHKP-C activists were rounded up during raids throughout Turkey, and in four European states Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
Over the past three decades, the group has been blamed for the deaths of about 100 Turkish law-enforcement officers and officials, along with roughly 80 civilians. It has also attacked US targets in Turkey, and is a staunch opponent of Ankara's membership in NATO. In its most prominent recent attack, a suicide bomber on September 10, 2001, killed two police officers and a civilian bystander in Istanbul.
The group is not known to have ties to al Qaeda or other Islamic radical groups. However, the British Broadcasting Corp., citing a Turkish anti-terrorism source, reported that the DHKP-C aspired to emulate al Qaeda's terrorist methods in an attempt to regain attention for its far-left cause.
Mevlut Katik is a London-based correspondent and analyst. He is a former BBC correspondent and also worked for The Economist group.