Fifteen suspected al-Qaeda terrorists were detained in several Turkish cities on Tuesday (July 12th) for reported ties in a planned attack on several diplomatic targets, including the US Embassy in Ankara. The arrests came days ahead of a planned visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Istanbul.
The interior ministry confirmed the detentions late on Tuesday, saying they were made in the western city of Bursa and the nearby town of Yalova. The statement said that weapons, ammunition and maps of Ankara were also seized in a simultaneous raid near the capital.
According to the Anadolu News Agency, which cited unnamed official sources Wednesday, some 700kg of chemicals used for making bombs were also confiscated in the raids.
The report suggested the operation was carried out after one suspect, believed to have undergone special weapons and explosives training abroad, was under surveillance for half a year. He was detained earlier and gave police hints on how to catch the rest.
Currently, the suspects are being held in police custody for questioning.
Allegedly, the group was planning to attack the US embassy and other foreign buildings in revenge against the May 2nd killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by US forces. There have been extensive speculations in the local press recently of a possible terror plot after bin Laden’s death.
Clinton is due in Istanbul on Friday and Saturday for a meeting of the Libya Contact Group.
The US State Department said they have not received any official information about a plot against the embassy, but stated they are in touch with Turkish officials and are following the situation.
Al-Qaeda is believed to have been behind several high-profile attacks in Istanbul, including four truck bombs in November 2003, targeting the British Consulate, the Turkish headquarters of HSBC bank and two synagogues, killing 57 people and wounding hundreds.
Police have accelerated regular operations against the militant group since July 2008, when three policemen and three assailants died in a gun battle outside the US consulate.
In January 2010, 120 alleged members of al-Qaeda were detained in Istanbul and other cities, possibly including senior members. There were similar raids in 2009.
In April this year, security forces detained over 40 people in a crackdown against the group, including Halis Bayancuk, 26, considered one of the ringleaders of al-Qaeda in Turkey.
In June, ten suspected members of the terror group were detained in the southern city of Adana, the home of the Incirlik Air Base that is used by the US to transfer non-combat supplies to Iraq and Afghanistan.