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Turkey Arrests 3 in Israel Suicide Attack Plot - 2002-02-19

Turkish police say Tuesday they have foiled a planned suicide attack against Israel after arresting three suspected terrorists, Mustafa Hasan yusuf Fehim, Firaz Suleyman Ali Hejr and Ahmed Muhahammed Mustafa, in Turkey's eastern province of Van. The suspects were captured after entering Van illegally from neighboring Iran.

A police spokesman in Istanbul said the detained men - two Palestinians and a Jordanian - are part of group called Beyyiat el-Imam.

The spokesman for Turkey's security directorate, Feyzullah Arslan, said all three suspects had been trained at al-Qaida camps run by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and that they had been planning to mount suicide bomb attacks against Israel. Mr. Arslan said the three had planned to get to Israel via Syria, which borders Turkey to the south, and Jordan.

The men were captured by police in Van after refusing to stop at a checkpoint. A police spokesman said various fake identity cards and documents in Arabic were found in the suspects' car. The case is now being handled by a special state security court in Van that handles terror crimes.

Turkish television says at least 10 Turkish nationals in Van who allegedly helped smuggle in the detainees from Iran are also being held in police custody.

Initial statements by the detained men led Turkish police to broaden their investigation to Istanbul, where six more men accused of links with the group were detained late Tuesday.

The detentions follow reports in the Turkish press that two Tunisian-born Canadians allegedly linked to al-Qaida might be in Turkey. One of the men is thought to be Al Rauf bin Al Habib Bin Yousef al-Jiddi. He was recently identified by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft as one of five men who recorded video messages pledging to carry out suicide attacks. The messages were uncovered by U.S. forces after they seized al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan.

CIA Director George Tenet recently included Turkey among a list of countries considered high risk for U.S. citizens likely to be targeted by terrorists. They include some 3,000 troops stationed at the Incirlik base in southern Turkey from which British and U.S. fighter jets patrol the no-fly zone over Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.