Syrian al-Qaeda prepares to launch attack in Turkey's big cities

Bombings in Hatay's Reyhanlı district in early May killed killed 53 people, wounding more than 100 in the town. (Photo: İHA)

November 04, 2013, Monday/ 18:23:00

The al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has sent two of seven bomb-loaded vehicles it has been preparing to the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa to launch an attack on Turkey's biggest cities, an intelligence source has told Today's Zaman.

After learning of ISIL's attack preparations, the National Police Department, the Gendarmerie General Command and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) issued a red alert. According to initial findings of security forces, two bomb-loaded vehicles have entered Turkey, five more vehicles are being prepared and ISIL plans to use them to commit a large-scale attack on Turkey's major cities, including Ankara, İstanbul and İzmir. Detailed information on the two vehicles has been shared with all intelligence departments across Turkey. Security forces also warned that ISIL could amend its attack plans, which is why security measures in Turkey's southern and southeastern provinces -- among them Gaziantep and Hatay, where refugee camps are found -- has also been tightened.

According to the same intelligence source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the vehicles are being prepared in Syria's northern city of Raqqa. Intelligence units discovered detailed information on Oct. 30 about ISIL's plan to carry out a terrorist attack, and got in contact with local units.

A Western official based in Ankara who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that Turkey's Western allies are greatly concerned with the threat posed by ISIL.

ISIL had earlier threatened Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that it would initiate a series of “suicide attacks” in İstanbul and Ankara and demanded that Turkey reopen the Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salameh border crossing points, which authorities closed after ISIL seized control of the town of Azaz in late September.

The organization also claimed responsibility for twin car bombings in the town of Reyhanlı in the southern province of Hatay, killing 53 people and wounding more than 100 in May. Reyhanlı is an important point of refuge for Syrian refugees who have fled the violence in their country.

Turkey seizes 20 bags of sulfur on Syrian border

In the meantime, three vehicles loaded with 20 bags of sulfur and eight barrels, whose contents are currently unknown, have been seized on the Syrian border while trying to illegally enter the Syria from Turkey.

According to a statement released by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), three vehicles trying to illegally cross into Syria from Turkey were detained by the TSK in Hatay on Saturday. One of the passengers, identified only by the initials S.H., was taken into custody by the Reyhanlı Gendarmerie General Command, while the others managed to flee into Syria after abandoning their vehicles.

After warning the drivers that they had entered a military zone, soldiers opened fire to block their passage into Syria. The individuals then left their vehicles and crossed into Syria on foot, according to the statement.

Twenty sacks of sulfur, each weighing around 50 kilograms, and eight sealed barrels were seized from the vehicles.

The barrels have been kept under guard in the area in which they were seized. A Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (KBRN) team is charged with identifying the contents of the barrels.

Sulfur is a vital ingredient in the manufacture of mustard gas, which has powerful vesicant effects and can cause chemical burns on exposed individuals. It is found in liquid, gas and solid forms. People can be exposed through external contact, inhalation or ingestion.

There are also several reports alleging that the Syrian regime's chemical weapons facility in Homs was seized by al-Qaeda-linked terrorists and that these fighters are short of raw materials.

One Syrian and five Turks were detained in May in an Adana police operation to seize materials used in the production of chemical weapons.

Initial reports said 2 kilograms of highly toxic sarin gas were discovered in the operation, a claim later denied by the authorities. But the chemicals seized could be used to manufacture sarin gas, according to news reports.

The six later admitted that they had obtained the chemicals in Turkey, but claimed they did not know that sarin gas could be produced from them. Last week, they appeared before a court in the southern province of Adana for their trial's first hearing.

The one Syrian defendant under arrest faces up to 25 years in prison, while the five Turkish citizens, all of whom were released pending trial, each face up to 15 years imprisonment.

Meanwhile, suspects accused of carrying chemical materials in a vehicle in Bingöl province appeared before a court in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır for the first hearing of their trial. Four of the suspects attended the hearing and alleged that they had been threatened by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to take a package to Lice, a district of Diyarbakır province, when they were detained on their way back home. The four suspects and one other were arrested in early September with more than 200 kilograms of explosive material.

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