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Suspected al-Qaida Ringleader Arrested in Turkey


A Turkish court has formally charged a suspected al-Qaida militant, who is accused of plotting to attack Israeli cruise ships off Turkey's Mediterranean coast. The man, a Syrian national, said he wanted to attack Israeli targets, and that he was acting on his own.

Turning to reporters as he was being escorted into court, the suspect shouted "Allahu Akbar," Arabic for God is Great, and then said he had prepared a ton of explosives to attack Israeli ships, without harming Turkish civilians. "I have no regrets," he said.

The court ordered his arrest on charges of membership in an illegal organization. The suspect, identified in the Turkish media as Louai Sakra, has denied he was a member of the al-Qaida terrorist network. But Turkish police quoted by the Turkish media described him as a Turkey-based regional ringleader for al-Qaida, who was likely involved in planning the November 2003 suicide bomb attacks against Israeli and British targets in Istanbul.

Defense lawyer Osman Karahan confirmed police reports that the suspect was planning to use an inflatable boat packed with explosives to attack Israeli cruise ships off the Mediterranean coast.

Several cruise ships carrying Israeli tourists were recently diverted from Turkish ports to Cyprus, following intelligence reports of an imminent terror attack.

The Syrian was detained in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir on August 6 as he was boarding a plane with false identity papers. Police first caught onto his plans after a fire broke out in an apartment in the Mediterranean port city of Antalya that was rented by an Iranian. Security forces became suspicious after a sharp smell of chemicals began spreading in the neighborhood. Police found incriminating evidence, including the suspect's passport, in the apartment.

Israeli and U.S. intelligence officials worked together with Turkish police to track down the suspect and a fellow Syrian, Hamed Obaysi, also suspected of links to al-Qaida. An Israeli security official quoted by The Associated Press said that, despite the arrests, a travel warning urging Israeli citizens to avoid Turkish beach resorts would remain in force. Israel believes other suspects targeting Israelis remain free.

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