Turkish police have arrested 16 people on suspicion of planning to bomb next month's Nato summit in Istanbul that President George Bush and other Western leaders are scheduled to attend.
The 16 were arrested in an operation in the north-western city of Bursa, about 160 miles south of Istanbul, and are suspected members of Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist network with links to al-Qa'ida.
The crackdown on the group comes amid heightened security in Turkey in the run-up to the Nato summit, which will be the first since Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Slovakia joined the EU this month and where more than 50 world leaders are scheduled to attend.
Guns, explosives, bomb-making booklets, forged identity documents and CDs that served as training manuals were also seized, after a year-long surveillance effort by the Turkish police. They made the arrests last Thursday, but details only began to emerge yesterday.
"The organisation has been neutralised in a successful operation while in the stage of planning attacks," the governor of the Bursa province, Oguz Kagan Koksal, was quoted as saying by Turkey's Anatolia news agency. The governor went on to say that the suspects had planned to attack a synagogue in the city and to rob a bank to raise funds before going to Iraq to fight US troops. Prosecutors questioned the 16 yesterday and requested that nine face charges of membership of an illegal organisation.
Seven were released, and it was not clear if they would still face charges. Nine others were detained in a simultaneous raid in Istanbul but were released after questioning. Turkey is under pressure to ensure water-tight security for the Nato event following the four suicide bombings in Istanbul in November.
Then suspected members of al-Qa'ida bombed an office of HSBC bank, the British Consulate and two synagogues, killing more than 60 people. Turkish officials have charged 69 suspects in connection with the bombings and their trial starts later this month.
Last month, the authorities rounded up dozens of alleged members of the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP-C, in simultaneous raids in Turkey, Italy, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The raids were seen as evidence of greater international security co-operation before the Nato summit and the Athens Summer Olympics.
According to Turkish newspapers, there will be a massive security presence at the summit with more than 30,000 police as well as hundreds of snipers expected to be on duty.
The governor of Istanbul, Muammer Guler, insisted that the city, which will also host the televised Eurovision song contest later this month and a meeting of foreign ministers from Islamic countries in June, is safe.
"There is no question of a situation that will affect the [Nato] meeting," Mr Guler said. "We have taken every precaution."
Nato supported the governor's appraisal of security and denied that the alliance was considering holding the summit elsewhere.
A spokeswoman said: "At the moment there is no consideration of that. The Turkish authorities are responsible for security and we have confidence in them."Reuse content