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Turkish Court Rules Itself Out in Terrorism Trial - 2004-05-31

The trial in Turkey of 69 suspects charged with involvement in last November's deadly suicide bomb attacks in Istanbul was postponed Monday, after the court ruled it did not have authority to deal with the case. Turkish officials have linked the attacks to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.

Shortly after the trial opened, it closed. The state's prosecutor, Mustafa Erol, agreed with the defense that the special security court convened in Istanbul no longer had jurisdiction over the case.

In ruling itself out, the court cited a recent constitutional amendment that abolished state security courts that deal with so-called terror crimes. The amendment was seen as part of Turkey's efforts to join the European Union, eventually.

Hundreds of academics, journalists, politicians and dissidents have been tried in the state security courts for advocating views deemed to threaten the Turkish state. The result is that these courts have become a target of international human rights groups. Turkish Justice Minister Cemil Cicek said a new court with authority to deal with terrorism-related cases could be established within two weeks.

Twelve defendants, including five alleged ringleaders implicated in the twin suicide bombings of two Istanbul synagogues, a British based bank and the British consulate, appeared at Monday's hearing.

It was to have been the first in a series of trials of the first of some 50 people suspected of involvement in the November bombings that claimed at least 60 lives, and injured more than 600 others. Another 19 suspects who remain at large are to be tried in absentia.

Prosecutors have said they will seek sentences of life imprisonment for the five ringleaders.

Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network claimed responsibility for the truck bombings that authorities said were all carried out by Turkish citizens. Monday's brief hearing came amid heightened security in Istanbul. The city of 10-million is to host a NATO summit on June 28 and 29 that will be attended by President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Despite tougher security measures, percussion bombs exploded outside several branches of the HSBC bank last week during a visit by Mr. Blair to the Turkish capital, Ankara.

Earlier this month, police in Istanbul uncovered what they said was a massive cache of explosives and bomb-making devices.