(photo credit: AP)
Turkish police launched a nationwide crackdown on suspected militants linked to the al-Qaida terror network, rounding up 120 people in simultaneous pre-dawn raids, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.
It was not clear if Friday's raids in 16 provinces in this NATO member and western ally country would amount to a major blow to homegrown Islamic militants.
Yeni Safak newspaper this week reported that Turkish police had recently seized video recordings of alleged Turkish al-Qaida terrorists in Taliban camps in Afghanistan, as well as alleged plans for attacks on Turkish soldiers in Kabul and on police in Turkey. It did not cite a source for the report.
Turkey, NATO's sole Muslim member, took over the rotating command of the NATO peacekeeping operation in Kabul in November and doubled its number of troops to around 1,750. Turkey has also said it is ready to serve as an exit route for US troops' withdrawal from Iraq.
Friday's crackdown follows another raid on suspected terrorists in the cities Ankara and Adana last week in which police rounded up and interrogated some 40 people and reportedly seized documents detailing al-Qaida activities. Twenty-five of them were charged with membership in a terrorist organization while the rest were released.
Those detained Friday's raids include a faculty member of the Yuzunci Yil University in the eastern city of Van, who is suspected of recruiting students at the campus and other people through the Internet and of sending them to Afghanistan for training, Anatolia reported, citing unnamed police officials. The suspect was identified by his initials M.E.Y. only.
Anatolia said other suspects included some local leaders, university students, and people believed to be spreading al-Qaida propaganda.
Police seized documents, computer hard-disks and a number of arms, it said.
Police would not comment on the arrests Friday but experts said more operations against al-Qaida suspects were likely to follow.
"Each operation against al-Qaida leads to new information and widens the net," said Nihat Ali Ozcan, a terrorism expert at the Economic Policy Research Institute in Ankara.
Homegrown Islamist groups tied to the al-Qaida carried out suicide bombings in Istanbul, killing 58 people in 2003. The targets were the British consulate, a British bank and two synagogues. In 2008, an attack blamed on al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists outside the US Consulate in Istanbul left three assailants and three policemen dead.
Turkish authorities have said dozens of Islamic radicals have received training in Afghanistan.
However, al-Qaida's austere and violent interpretation of Islam receives little public backing in Turkey.
Several other radical Islamic groups are active in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim but officially secular country.
In June, Turkey's court of appeals upheld life sentences for six terrorists accused in the 2003 deadly bombings, including Syrian Loa'i Mohammad Haj Bakr al-Saqa, who was charged with masterminding the bombings. The court sentenced 33 others to between three years nine months and 18 years. It acquitted 15 of the suspects, citing a lack of evidence.
Hundreds of other suspected terrorists are on trial for membership in a terror organization.