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Al-Qaida Trial Starts in Istanbul


The trial of a key al-Qaida suspect accused of masterminding suicide bomb attacks against British and Israeli targets in Istanbul has opened with heavy security.

Just minutes after the trial opened in a courtroom in Istanbul, presiding judge Zafer Baskurt ordered the suspect to leave after he repeatedly refused to stand up in court.

As he was dragged out of court, the suspect, a Syrian national identified as Loa'i Mohammad Haj Bakr al-Saqa said, "My beliefs prevent me from standing in front of people like you." He added, "I fought a Jihad, I killed Americans.".

Al-Saqa is on trial with 72 other suspected al-Qaida operatives for alleged involvement in a string of suicide bomb attacks in November 2003. Four suicide bombers driving explosives-laden vehicles targeted two synagogues, the British consulate and the Istanbul headquarters of the British HSBC bank.

The British Consul General was among the 58 people who died in the blasts. Most of those killed were Muslim Turks.

Turkish prosecutors charge that al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden personally ordered the Syrian to organize the attacks against Jewish and British nationals in Turkey. Al-Saqa and his alleged Syrian accomplice, Hamid Obysi, were captured in Turkey last August after a failed attempt to blow up Israeli cruise ships off Turkey's Mediterranean coast.

Israeli officials described al-Saqa as "a very big fish" and said his capture was a great blow to al-Qaida.

Al-Saqa reportedly told interrogators that the plan to kill Israeli tourists was financed by a top al-Qaida militant who allegedly gave him $50,000 to organize the plot.

Al-Saqa has already been sentenced in absentia by a Jordanian court in 2002 for another failed attempt to attack Americans and Israelis in Jordan with poison gas. In Turkey, Al-Saqa is facing lifetime imprisonment on charges of seeking to overthrow Turkey's secular constitution and government.