- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

NICOSIA, Cyprus Turkey has taken initial steps to facilitate any effort to seize suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden, believed to be hiding in Afghanistan.

Such a backup action would include transit facilities for troops that might be used in an anti-terrorist operation and the right to use Turkey's airspace, diplomats say.

The decision was taken, according to diplomatic reports, in keeping with Turkey's commitment to a secular from of government and its firm opposition to Islamic terrorism.

Senior U.S. officials, including President Bush, have named bin Laden as the brain behind last Tuesday's devastating terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

A Pakistani mission has gone to Afghanistan in an unsuccessful effort to persuade the Taliban authorities to hand over bin laden.

But Turkish officials were quoted by diplomats as saying that if sufficient proof of his quilt is submitted, the Taliban would like to try him "on Islamic soil."

Gen. Huseyin Kivrikoglu, chief of Turkey's General Staff, declared, "the hour has come for a struggle against political Islam."

A "crisis desk" has been formed in Ankara at the instigation of the powerful National Security Council, which is dominated by the military.

Following a 13-page report on the situation by the council, Turkey beefed up security at foreign diplomatic missions, tightened border controls and ordered a state of alert at selected military bases.

The United States has a score of military bases in Turkey, and U.S. and British planes at the Incirlik base near Adana fly missions to enforce a no-fly zone over northern Iraq.

Diplomats pointed out the exceptionally sober analysis of the current situation by the Turkish crisis committee.

Its report stated that "the United States will very quickly get over the shock and retaliate with force," and due to Turkey's strategic importance, "Washington's reaction could well affect Turkey indirectly."

Turkey's apparent willingness to help in the U.S. anti-terrorist campaign underscores its commitment to NATO and its determination to stem political Islam at home.

In recent years, an estimated 3,000 army officers were released for "voicing Islamic views."

Four years ago, a stiff army ultimatum forced the collapse of the government headed by Necmettin Erbakan, one of the key Islamic leaders.

If Turkey plays a significant role in the anti-terrorist war, its international prestige would be considerably enhanced.

A candidate for membership in the European Union, Turkey is frequently criticized in Europe for its human rights record and military presence in Northern Cyprus.

Turkey was one of America's key allies during the Gulf crisis in 1990-91 and claims that observance of the sanctions against Iraq has cost it $35 billion.

The present international emergency comes at a particularly difficult period for Turkey, grappling with a major economic crisis.

During the past five months the Turkish lira has lost 50 percent of its value against the dollar, inflation stands at 60 percent and half a million people have lost their jobs.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has pledged $15.7 billion for a crisis recovery program.

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