Bin Laden had direct role in Turkish consulate bombings, suspect claims

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The Independent Online

Osama bin Laden was behind the suicide attacks in Turkey which claimed 62 lives, including that of the British consul general, in Istanbul last month, according to a suspect under interrogation.

The Saudi dissident directed the Turkish militants to attack a military base in Turkey used by the United States, but they were foiled by tight security and bombed civilian targets instead, Turkish officials said. They believe the bombings were carried out by individuals who received training from al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan.

The suspect, Fevzi Yitiz, told interrogators that bin Laden approved attacks in Turkey on condition that Turks were not killed, an intelligence source said. But the militants instead bombed two synagogues on 15 November, and the Turkish headquarters of HSBC bank and the British Consulate five days later. The majority of the victims were Muslims.

The misjudgement led to criticism from al-Qa'ida, according to Yitiz. He said that an accomplice, Habib Aktas, told him the bombings were "considered a failure because it mostly killed Muslim Turks."

Yitiz told police that Aktas and Ibrahim Kus, who have been identified as key suspects in the bombings, met bin Laden in Afghanistan in 2002.

The two reportedly told bin Laden that "they wanted to do something in Turkey for the jihad". According to Yitiz, bin Laden replied, "I am approving it on condition that it is directed against the Americans and their allies but not the Turks."

According to the reports of Yitiz's interrogation, bin Laden first suggested an attack against Turkey's Incirlik air base, a sprawling facility used by American troops and US and Israeli ships using the Mediterranean port of Mersin. The bombings in Turkey are viewed by terrorism experts as part of a growing trend - attacks by al-Qa'ida-trained activists who have returned to their home countries and are maintaining only weak ties with the central group.

"They planned and carried out the attack independently after receiving the blessing of bin Laden," said a Turkish intelligence official playing a central role in the investigation.

A breakthrough in the investigation into the bombings came when Yitiz was arrested on 10 December after infiltrating Turkey from Iran, according to a police official.

Yitiz, who appears to be about 30, confessed to Turkish police that he had been trained by al-Qa'ida in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in 1994 and helped make the bombs used in the attacks at an Istanbul workshop.

This is not the first time Yitiz has been held by police in connection with Muslim extremist groups. In 1998 he was questioned over his links with Turkish Hezbollah, a radical group not related to the Lebanese group of the same name.