Syrian opposition offices in Turkey shut down due to al-Qaeda threat

February 03, 2014, Monday/ 17:52:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Syria's main opposition group's offices in İstanbul and the southeastern city of Gaziantep were closed on Sunday for security reasons after the global terrorist network al-Qaeda recently vowed to fight groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

For some time now, Turkey has issued alert warnings to Syrian opposition groups based in Turkey that they could be the target of an attack by groups linked to al-Qaeda, according to news outlets.

"We were given a piece of paper we had to sign. It said there was a risk of attack from the [Syrian] regime … and from the [al-Qaeda-linked] Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL]," a senior Syrian National Coalition member told Reuters. "They said if it is from the regime it could be a car bomb and if it is from the ISIL it could be a suicide bomber," the official added.

Turkey is a staunch supporter of the moderate opposition movement aligned with the Syrian National Coalition, the only group recognized by countries supporting the opposition as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Turkey is hosting the moderate Syrian National Coalition in İstanbul and has maintained an open-border policy towards Syrians fleeing from their war-torn country. Recent opposition meetings in Turkey have been held at secret locations partly due to security concerns with the rise of groups linked to al-Qaeda, such as al-Nusra and ISIL, which Ankara considers to be growing threats.

ISIL recently threatened Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with initiating a series of “suicide attacks” in İstanbul and Ankara for its closure of border crossing points.

According to the information obtained from sources, ISIL wanted to take revenge on Turkey for its support to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the coalition, and for that reason ISIL militants were planning to target the offices of the coalition.

Although the offices were closed, members of the coalition were allowed to carry on their activities in those cities.

According to observers, the closure of the coalition's offices soon after Erdoğan's visit to Tehran last week has caused confusion. Some observers see the closure of the offices as the first indication of a change in Turkey's Syria policy.

ISIL has seized several towns near the border with Turkey in the course of the infighting since early January. ISIL, one of the two al-Qaeda-linked groups known for its brutal executions and imposition of strict Islamic rule in areas it has captured, and rebels from groups linked to the FSA and a powerful alliance called the Islamic Front have been engaged in bitter infighting since early January in northeast Syria.

According to news reports, ISIL could carry out its suicide attacks in Turkey's southern and southeastern provinces close to the border with Syria, such as Gaziantep, Hatay and Şanlıurfa.

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