ANKARA, Turkey Two Palestinians and a Jordanian with suspected ties to the al Qaeda terror network were detained in eastern Turkey, reportedly on their way to stage a bomb attack in Israel, police said yesterday.
The suspects were stopped Friday in the eastern province of Van, bordering Iran, after they ignored a police warning to stop at a checkpoint, police spokesman Feyzullah Arslan told a news conference in Ankara.
It is the first arrest of al Qaeda suspects in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim NATO ally that has voiced strong support for the U.S. war against terrorism.
The three men were taken to court later yesterday for questioning by a judge before arraignment.
Mr. Arslan said the three men identified as Firas Suleiman, Ahmet Mahmud and Mustafa Hasan entered Turkey illegally from Iran with the help of smugglers who regularly bring illegal immigrants into the country.
The men were planning to travel to Istanbul and then make their way to Israel, where they had received orders to carry out a bomb attack, Mr. Arslan said.
“They planned to enter Israel through Syria and Jordan to carry out a bomb attack at a crowded area,” he told reporters. Mr. Arslan said the men were members of a group called Beyyiat el-Imam, which he said was led by a man called Abu Musad and had links with al Qaeda. He said the three had fought for the former Taliban rulers in Afghanistan and had received training in Taliban and al Qaeda camps.
“Firas Suleiman received orders from Abu Musad to carry out a suicide attack in Tel Aviv or Ramat Gan,” Mr. Arslan said, referring to cities in Israel.
No weapons or bomb parts were found in their possession. But police were inspecting documents in Arabic found in their car believed to contain bomb-making instructions, Mr. Arslan said.
The men were carrying false passports as well as material to make false documents, police said. The semiofficial Anatolia news agency, quoting police officials in Van, said Mr. Suleiman was carrying false Jordanian and Saudi passports.
A fourth man in the car, who was also detained, was suspected of helping the suspects enter Turkey illegally, while six other persons had been detained in Istanbul for reportedly aiding the suspects. Mr. Arslan said none of those seven is a suspected al Qaeda member.
U.S. and Israeli officials had been informed about the arrests and details of the questioning, Mr. Arslan said.
Israeli officials have said in recent weeks that they have no evidence of al Qaeda activity in the Palestinian territories, but believe some al Qaeda fighters have entered Lebanon and are trying to get into Syria.
Last week there were Turkish news reports that two Tunisian-born Canadians suspected of links with the al Qaeda network might be in Turkey.
Newspapers identified the two men as Abderraouf Jdey and Abdelaziz Boussora. The name Jdey is reportedly an alias for Al Rauf bin Al Habib Bin Yousef al-Jiddi, who was recently identified by the United States as one of five men whose recorded video messages promising to carry out suicide attacks were found amid rubble in Afghanistan.
Turkish security officials said they were investigating the reports.