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Turkish Police Battle al-Qaida Suspects

Police in the Turkish city of Gaziantep Thursday raided suspected al-Qaida safe houses, killing four suspects and detaining 18. One policeman also died in the battle and four were wounded, according to local officials. Dorian Jones reports for VOA from Istanbul.

The masked police raided the suspected safe houses in the early morning hours Thursday and triggered a battle that brought the city of Gazaintep to a standstill.

Ambulances rushed the injured away from the battle that, provincial officials say claimed the lives of four suspects and one policeman.

The raid is the latest operation in a nationwide crackdown on suspected al-Qaida militants in recent months. Dozens of suspects have been detained since 2003 when suicide bombers allegedly linked to al-Qaida attacked two synagogs the British consulate and an HSBC bank in Istanbul, killing at least 58 people.

In addition to homegrown Islamic terrorism, Turkey is also facing hardline nationalists. Earlier this week, police in Ankara and Istanbul arrested dozens of people after a lengthy investigation into a cache of weapons and explosives found last year.

According to a prominent local newspaper, the suspects plotted, among other things, to assassinate prominent Kurdish politicians and liberal writers, including Nobel Prize winning novelist, Orhan Pamuk.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a statement on national television earlier this week, welcomed the arrests.

"Turkey has been working against these gangs for last four to five years. These last arrests concerning such crimes has shown in the clearest way that the government and the judiciary are working in a wonderful solidarity," he said.

Human rights activist Orhan Kemal Cengiz says the extreme nationalists, some of whom are in their teens, are responsible for a number of recent attacks.

"A greek journalist was beaten in Istanbul, a priest in Izmir was stabbed in his stomach, another murder attempt was prevented in Antalya, there were some death threats towards a priest in Samsun," said Cengiz. "In all these cases their profile is the same: their age was 17 and 19 and the're all members of the ultra nationalist movement."

But he was cautious in welcoming the recent arrests, saying he hopes all those involved will be brought to justice.