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Turkey seizes 120 suspected militants

Turkish police have launched a nationwide crackdown on suspected militants they say are linked to al-Qaeda, rounding up 120 people in simultaneous pre-dawn raids, the state-run Anatolia news agency reports.

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It is not clear if Friday’s raids in 16 provinces in this NATO member and western ally country will amount to a major blow to homegrown Islamic militants.

Yeni Safak newspaper this week reported Turkish police had recently seized video recordings of alleged Turkish al-Qaeda militants in Taliban camps in Afghanistan, as well as alleged plans for attacks on Turkish soldiers in Kabul and on police in Turkey. It did not cite a source for the report.

Turkey, NATO’s sole Muslim member, took over the rotating command of the NATO peacekeeping operation in Kabul in November and doubled its number of troops to around 1,750. Turkey has also said it is ready to serve as an exit route for US troop withdrawals from

Iraq.

Friday’s crackdown follows another raid on suspected militants in the cities Ankara and Adana last week in which police rounded up and interrogated about 40 people and reportedly seized documents detailing al-Qaeda activities. Twenty-five of them were charged

with membership in a terrorist organisation while the rest were released.

Those detained in Friday’s raids include a faculty member of the Yuzunci Yil University in the eastern city of Van who is suspected of recruiting students at the campus and other people through the internet and of sending them to Afghanistan for training, Anatolia

reported, citing unnamed police officials. The suspect was identified by his initials MEY only.

Anatolia said other suspects included some local leaders, university students, and people believed to be spreading al-Qaeda propaganda.

Police seized documents, computer hard-disks and a number of arms, it said.

Police reluctant to comment

Police would not comment on Friday’s arrests but experts said more operations against al-Qaeda suspects were likely to follow.

“Each operation against al-Qaeda leads to new information and widens the net,” said Nihat Ali Ozcan, a terrorism expert at the Economic Policy Research Institute in Ankara.

Homegrown Islamic militants tied to the al-Qaeda carried out suicide bombings in Istanbul, killing 58 people in 2003. The targets were the British consulate, a British bank and two

synagogues. In 2008, an attack blamed on al-Qaeda-affiliated militants outside the US Consulate in Istanbul left three assailants and three policemen dead.

Turkish authorities have said dozens of Islamic militants have received training in Afghanistan.

Several other radical Islamic groups are active in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim but officially secular country.

In June, Turkey’s court of appeals upheld life sentences for six militants accused in the 2003 deadly bombings, including Syrian Loa’i Mohammad Haj Bakr al-Saqa, who was charged with masterminding the bombings. The court sentenced 33 others to between three years

nine months and 18 years. It acquitted 15 of the suspects, citing a lack of evidence.

Hundreds of other suspected militants are on trial for membership in a terror organisation.