ISTANBUL – Turkey’s justice minister has been quoted as saying Chechens and Turks with links to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network helped prepare suicide bombs that killed dozens of people in Istanbul this month.
Cemil Cicek also said militants who bombed the British consulate and an office of the London-based HSBC bank last Thursday had narrowly evaded a pre-emptive attempt to arrest them after they were alerted to a planned police raid.
Ankara has said the November 20 bombing and attacks on two Istanbul synagogues five days earlier were carried out by Turks, but it has been investigating suspicions of al Qaeda links.
“It is now known who carried out the terror attacks and who aided and abetted them,” Cicek told the Milliyet daily on Thursday. “Foreign connections have been established, they came and went to al Qaeda (camps). There are people with Chechen roots among them.”
Cicek did not name the suspects or elaborate further. Eighteen people have been charged already over the attacks.
Many Turks trace their roots to the Caucasus and Istanbul is home to a sizeable number of exiled Chechens from there who are widely regarded as fellow Muslims fighting foreign oppression by Russians. Moscow has repeatedly criticised Ankara for tolerating what it regards as “Chechen terrorists” on its territory.
Moscow says Chechen rebels are closely linked to an “arc of instability” of Islamic militants stretching from the Philippines to the Middle East, though the guerrillas deny this.
Experts say up to 4,000 Turkish radicals have fought in conflicts overseas, including Chechnya, Bosnia and Afghanistan, some training at al Qaeda camps that existed in Afghanistan before the U.S. invasion of the country two years ago in response to the September 11 attacks on the United States.