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Turkey Detains 3 Linked to Berlin Christmastime Attack

Turkish media report, March 20, 2017, that three men of Lebanese origin and allegedly linked to an Islamic State-claimed attack on a German Christmas market were arrested at Istanbul's main Ataturk Airport.

Three men of Lebanese origin and allegedly linked to an attack claimed by so-called Islamic State on a German Christmas market were arrested at a Turkish airport heading to Europe, Turkish media reported Monday.

The Turkish daily Milliyet said the suspects were German citizens of Lebanese origin and were stopped by anti-terror police at Istanbul's main Ataturk Airport after authorities received "intelligence tips" that the men were headed to Europe with a terror plan.

The reports do not specify how the men are connected to Anis Amri, who drove a truck through a Berlin market December 19, killing 12 and injuring dozens. Amri was killed four days later by Italian police after he fled to Milan.

The arrests come a week after Turkish police in Izmir arrested a man they say ordered the Berlin market attack.

The suspect, a German citizen of Jordanian origin whose name has not been released, reportedly entered Turkey from Greece. According to Turkish newspaper reports, the suspect gave the order for Amir to carry out the Berlin attack. Amir's phone records link him to suspects in Turkey, according to Turkish media reports.

Another suspect also linked to IS was arrested in Izmir March 11. He reportedly told police that he was getting ready to go to Europe to carry out an attack. Turkey's Interior Ministry said Monday that 70 suspects tied to IS were detained in the last week.

Analysts say the crackdown shows that despite heightened diplomatic strains between Turkey and European countries, law enforcement authorities in Turkey and Europe are cooperating.

Turkey's president has ratcheted up tensions with the European Union, as he campaigns ahead of an April referendum to extend his presidential powers. The unprecedented rhetoric is raising concerns as to whether Turkish-EU relations can recover.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused EU members Germany and the Netherlands of being fascists and Nazis.

But despite the rhetoric, cooperation between the Turkish Intelligence Agency and its European counterparts has been strengthened because of the common enemy IS, said Metehan Demir, a Turkish military and intelligence expert.

"The arrest of three IS suspects at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport is a concrete example of that developing cooperation," he said. "Intelligence sharing led to these arrests."

A high-level Turkish official in Washington told VOA that Turkey remains committed to international cooperation in the fight against IS.

"Turkey has been and continues to be an active part of the international coalition against IS," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.