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News :: International
Bin Laden suggested attack against U.S. military base in Turkey, but activists changed plans
17 Dec 2003
Fevzi Yitiz told interrogators that Osama bin Laden approved attacks in Turkey only if Turks were not killed, but instead operatives bombed two synagogues, a London-based bank and the British Consulate-- killing over 60 people, mostly Muslims.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden proposed attacking a Turkish military base used by the United States, but activists thwarted by heavy security, bombed civilian targets instead, killing Muslims and angering al-Qaeda leaders, Turkish officials said.

The information came from interrogations of a senior suspect in last month's deadly bombings in Istanbul that authorities believe were carried out by Turkish activists trained by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, according to the officials, cited by The AP.

The suspect, Fevzi Yitiz, told interrogators that Osama bin Laden approved attacks in Turkey on condition that Turks were not killed, a high-level intelligence source told the news agency.

However, the operatives, instead bombed two synagogues, a London-based bank and the British Consulate, killing over 60 people, mostly Muslims.

"They planned and carried out the attack independently after receiving the blessing of bin Laden," said the Turkish intelligence official who is part of the investigation.

A break in the case came when Yitiz was arrested in mid-December after infiltrating Turkey from Iran, a police official said.

Yitiz confessed to police that he was trained by al-Qaeda in Jalalabad, Afghanistan in 1994 and helped make the bombs used in the attacks inside a front workshop called "Rainbow Detergents" that was formed in an industrial section of Istanbul, the police official said.

Moreover, Yitiz told police that two of his accomplices - Habib Aktas and Ibrahim Kus, who have been identified as key suspects - met with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in2002 , the intelligence official said.

The two operatives told bin Laden "they wanted to do something in Turkey for the jihad," the intelligence official said. Yitiz told police bin Laden replied, "I am approving it on condition that it is directed against the Americans and their allies but not the Turks."

The killing of mostly Muslim Turks led top al-Qaeda officials to criticize the attacks, according to Yitiz, the intelligence official said.

Yitiz said he heard from Aktas, who had fled to Iran before the attacks, that al-Qaeda "considered the bombings as a failure because it mostly killed Muslim Turks," the intelligence official said.

The information attributed to Yitiz was based on his meetings with other accomplices in Turkey and recently in Iran, officials said.

Bin Laden, in the course of his meeting with Aktas and Kus, first suggested an attack against Incirlik Air Base, a facility used by U.S. troops or U.S. or Israeli ships using the Mediterranean port of Mersin, according to the police description of Yitiz' interrogation.

However, security at the air base and the Mersin harbor made the attack too difficult. Coast guard cutters protect the harbor and Turkish forces patrol the base's perimeters. A high wall also was erected around the base prior to the Iraq war.

That forced the alleged conspirators, Aktas, Kus and Azad Ekinci - all of whom are believed to have trained in Afghanistan - to change the attack plans, the police official said, according to the agency.

It took several months for the attackers to choose new targets and recruit four suicide bombers, the police said. Binoculars, wireless radios and cameras were seized in raids after the attacks.

Yitiz is from Van, a poor province bordering Iran, police said. After graduating from high school he attended a university in Pakistan, the intelligence official said.

Broke and far from home, he was drawn to an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, where he was told that he could study Quran and Islam for free, the intelligence official said.

He later returned to Van and worked in a restaurant. Then he traveled to Istanbul, where he began to sympathize with Turkish Hizbullah, a group not related to the Lebanese group of the same name, the intelligence official said.

Yitiz was briefly detained by police in 1998 and questioned about his links to Hizbullah, which is not suspected of playing a role in the Istanbul attacks. He reportedly traveled to the Netherlands and to Iran for business.

His brother, Servet, told Hurriyet daily that Yitiz found himself jobless in Van, and left for Istanbul seven or eight months ago, telling his family that he started selling detergent. The detergent business, however, was allegedly a cover for bombmaking.
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