Police have detained 15 suspected al-Qaeda militants who were allegedly planning to attack the US embassy in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, the state-run news agency said on Wednesday.
The Turkish Ministry of the Interior confirmed the capture of suspected al-Qaeda militants, but it would provide no other details about the case. US officials said they have contacted Turkish officials about the arrests, which came several days before US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is to visit Istanbul. Citing unidentified official sources, the Anatolia news agency said police captured the 15 suspects in Ankara, the western city of Bursa and the nearby town of Yalova, and seized 700kg of chemicals used in bomb making, two assault rifles, ammunition and maps of Ankara.
The suspects were planning to attack the US embassy in Ankara and unidentified foreign targets, the news agency said. They were brought to police headquarters in Ankara on Tuesday night and were being questioned by anti-terror police, the report said.
The police raids came after a six-month surveillance of a key suspect, who is believed to have received training with arms and explosives, and who rented a two-story house in Sincan, on the outskirts of Ankara, Anatolia said. The police captured the suspect on a street in Sincan earlier this week to avoid a possible clash during a raid, the news agency said.
Turkish media have speculated that homegrown radical Islamic militants affiliated with al-Qaeda are preparing to avenge the May 2 killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad by US forces.
In Washington on Wednesday, US Department of State spokesman Mark Toner said: “We’ve obviously seen the press reports. I’m aware that our embassy is in touch, as they always are, with Turkish authorities about these arrests.”
Clinton is to visit Istanbul today and tomorrow to meet with the Libya Contact Group, which includes more than 40 nations that are participating in or are backing the NATO mission supporting opponents of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. Clinton is also scheduled to meet with Turkish officials to discuss Libya, Syria and the Middle East peace process.
Al-Qaeda’s austere and violent interpretation of Islam receives little public backing in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim, but officially secular country.
However, al-Qaeda and several other radical Islamic groups have been active in Turkey before.
Last month, police arrested 10 suspected al-Qaeda militants in the southern Turkish city of Adana, which is home to the Incirlik Air Base used by the US to transfer noncombat supplies to Iraq and Afghanistan. Authorities have said Islamic militants tied to al-Qaeda planned to attack Incirlik in the past, but were deterred by high security.
Turkish authorities have said dozens of Turkish Islamic militants have received training in Afghanistan.
In 2008, an attack blamed on al-Qaeda-affiliated militants outside the US consulate in Istanbul left three assailants and three policemen dead.
In 2003, homegrown Islamic militants tied to al-Qaeda attacked the British Consulate, a British bank and two synagogues in Istanbul, killing 58 people.