Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Monday that the Israeli security establishment had received specific intelligence information according to which al-Qaeda cells that have infiltrated Turkey are planning to carry out terror attacks on Israeli targets and sites affiliated with the United States. Fresh security guidelines have been relayed to Israeli government agencies and businesses operating throughout Turkey in light of the threat, the daily said.
A videotape surfaced over the weekend in which bin Laden threatened to launch a terror attack against Israel. '"I would like to assure our people in Palestine that we will expand our jihad there. We intend to liberate Palestine, the whole of Palestine from the [Jordan] river to the sea," he said. "We don't have any further information other than the recent videotape," said Amit Zarouk, spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Ankara, speaking to Today's Zaman on Monday.
"However in general we do know that al-Qaeda is trying to get to the Palestinian territory in order to establish cells over there. We are taking this threat very seriously, and we have been combating this threat with all possible tools," Zarouk said, declining to elaborate whether any extra security precautions have been taken near the Israeli targets in Turkey following the recent threat by al-Qaeda.
"We see all of these facts as part of a struggle between extremists and moderates, and this is not only a struggle to deal only by Israel since the threat is also targeting the moderate regimes in the region," the Israeli diplomat stressed.
A Turkish cell of al-Qaeda was held responsible for suicide bomb attacks against the British Consulate General, two synagogues and an HSBC bank in İstanbul killing more than 60 people in November 2003.
Over the weekend the Turkish police detained five people with suspected links to the al-Qaeda network in the central Anatolian province of Aksaray. The arrests followed the detention over the weekend of 19 people for suspected links to the fundamentalist group.
There are several homegrown radical Muslim active groups in Turkey, but al-Qaeda's austere and violent interpretation of Islam receives negligible public backing in Turkey, where a moderate understanding of Islam is predominant.
However some radical Muslims regard Turkey's friendship with Israel, the United States and Britain -- as well as its efforts to join the European Union -- as tantamount to treason. Turkey is still debating the role of religion in the officially secular state.
In response to homegrown threats, governments around the world have beefed up intelligence networks, trying to infiltrate mosques, monitor underground Web sites and investigate Islamic front charities. But they have had little success in penetrating al-Qaeda's tightly knit cells, which survive on family ties and close personal relationships, agents and anti-terror police say. Turkish authorities have stepped up security in main cities ahead of the New Year's holiday, fearing bombings. The İstanbul Municipality has cancelled a traditional New Year's Eve party in the city's main square.
In February 2007 seven men were jailed for life over the November 2003 blasts, among them a Syrian national who masterminded and provided the financing for the attacks.