Istanbul bombing suspects handed over to terror court

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The Independent Online

The Turkish authorities moved a step closer to finding the terrorists responsible for the four bomb blasts that killed more than 50 people in Istanbul last week when 15 suspects were taken to a state security court in the city yesterday. The court has jurisdiction over terrorist cases.

The men, some from Bingol in the mountainous area 650 miles east of Istanbul, include relatives of four men police claim to have identified as the suicide bombers through DNA tests on remains from the vehicles that were used.

Although Turkey is a secular country, the government tacitly encouraged Islamic extremism in and around Bingol. It financed a terrorist organisation called Hezbollah, completely unrelated to the similarly named organisation in Lebanon, and supplied its members with guns to wage a dirty war on the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers' Party. At least one of the four alleged suicide bombers, Mesut Cabuk, was a member of Hezbollah. It killed thousands of Kurds as the government turned a blind eye. Turkey's support for Hezbollah ended four years ago.

The careers of Cabuk and two of the other three alleged suicide bombers, Azad Ekinci and Gokhan Elaltuntas, also from Bingol, help to explain how a nation strenuously opposed to Islamic fundamentalism since the time of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, ended up breeding vipers in its midst.

They had travelled to Pakistan for "religious training". But it is likely this involved military training in the lawless tribal regions of the North West Frontier Province that merge into eastern Afghanistan. The pious young men from Bingol returned from Pakistan transformed in the baggy Pakistani-style kurta pajama, instead of the Western-style shirts and jeans preferred by Turkish youth.

But like many al-Qa'ida terrorists, they also had a foot planted in the Western world. Elaltuntas became manager of an internet café in Bingol, co-owned by his father and a brother of Azad Ekinci, who himself co-owned another internet café in the town.

In May, when an earthquake damaged their cafés and many other buildings in Bingol, the two men moved to Istanbul, Ekinci selling his share, saying they planned to start a computer business in the big city. But the money was not enough to buy the trucks used in the bombings. The extra funds are reported to have been provided by the fourth suspect, Feridun Ugurlu, not a Bingol native but also a fellow alumnus of the Pakistan school of "religious training".

A Turkish newspaper reported that Ugurlu, who is thought to have fought in Afghanistan and Chechnya, bought the two pick-ups used in the bomb attacks last Thursday at the HSBC headquarters and the British consulate.

The picture emerging suggests Turkey has unwittingly nurtured the menace it now confronts, in a manner analogous to the CIA's funding of mujahedin groups, including Osama bin Laden's fighters, to fight the proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980s.

The American ambassador to Turkey, Eric Edelman, said yesterday: "The sophistication of these two attacks, the fact that there were multiple attacks, that they were timed to coincide with one another, certainly is consistent with the pattern we have seen in attacks launched by al-Qa'ida."

Two of the alleged bombers, Cabuk and Elaltuntas, were buried in Bingol at night. Because of the shame of their crime and the feelings of other townspeople, only their closest relatives were present.