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Authorities on Saturday said they detained a group of suspected Islamic terror cell members during Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit to Turkey. The state-run news agency said one was a lawyer who claimed to be al-Qaida's leader in the country, and that bomb-making material was seized during the roundup.
The group was detained in simultaneous raids in the cities of Izmir, Istanbul and Ankara on November 28 - the day Benedict arrived in Turkey on his first visit to a Muslim country, the Anatolia news agency reported. The raids were ordered as a precaution before the pope's visit, although there was no indication that the group intended to target the pontiff, the report said.
Police had been watching the 25-year-old lawyer, identified only by his initials, M.T., for more than a year after he reportedly claimed in a magazine interview to be the leader of the al-Qaida network in Turkey, Anatolia reported.
Police seized bomb-making material, including what the agency called a "CD bomb," - a minuscule explosive device placed on a CD which would have exploded if inserted into a computer and operated. It was the first time police in Turkey had seized such a device, the report said.
Police also seized maps of an oil refinery in the raid on the lawyer's house, Anatolia said.
Anatolia said the lawyer and two other suspects were detained in the Aegean port city of Izmir, while six others were caught in Istanbul and one person was detained in Ankara.
The men were suspected members of al-Qaida or of the radical Turkish Islamic group, the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders' Front, or IBDA-C, according to Anatolia. The group is a local ally of al-Qaida.
A police official in Istanbul confirmed that six suspects - believed to be members of al-Qaida or of IBDA-C - had been detained in the city at the time of the pope's visit. He was speaking on condition of anonymity because of rules that bar civil servants from speaking to reporters without prior authorization. Police officials in Ankara and Izmir could not immediately be reached for comment.
Two suicide bomb attacks in 2003 in Istanbul, blamed on a Turkish al-Qaida cell, killed 58 people. More than 70 suspected al-Qaida terrorists are currently on trial for their alleged roles in the bombings, though some suspected ringleaders have fled the country and some reportedly died in Iraq while fighting US forces, according to police.