…as Another Qaeda Leader Arrested in Turkey

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 16

The arrest of an alleged top figure in the Turkish division of al-Qaeda following the failed plan to attack Israeli tourist cruiser ships, promises analysts a windfall of information on the present structure of the international Islamist terror organization. According to the Turkish daily al-Zaman, on August 6 Luayy Sakra—reportedly one of the five most senior members in the organization—was arrested in the eastern Turkish town of Diyarbakir. Two days earlier, Turkish authorities intercepted members of an al-Qaeda cell at the coastal port of Alanya following a fire in an apartment from which a strong chemical odor emanated (from bombs being manufactured from chemical detergents) and impounded a boat docked in the harbor [www.zaman.com]. This had been loaded with 400kg of TNT in preparation for an attack on four Israeli cruise ships carrying 3,500 tourists due to call in at the port. The incident prompted a travel warning from Tel Aviv to avoid the Turkish coast.

What makes the arrests particularly interesting is Sakra’s profile, a Syrian national, who appears to have a full al-Qaeda CV, and is suspected of responsibility for the November 2003 bombings in Istanbul when 61 people were killed and more than 600 were injured. On interrogation, he appears to have been forthcoming on details of his terrorist work. According to the Turkish language Vatanim magazine, Sakra claimed that the failed operation against the Israeli ships had been ordered by bin Laden, and that he was “one of the most important points connected with al-Zarqawi” [www.vatanim.com.tr]. Despite Sakra’s own statements, his lawyer denies that his client has any connection with al-Qaeda and insists he was acting alone in planning the attacks on the Israeli cruise vessels. As reported in Zaman, Sakra claims the present structure of al-Qaeda is no longer under the sole control of bin Laden, but “consists of groups that perform operations on behalf of the whole network.” As evidence of this, Sakra claimed under interrogation that following the July 7 attacks on London bin Laden asked him whether the attack was carried out “by our people.” Sakra also revealed that he had no prior knowledge of the second London attack, and that its perpetrators “may not be a known group” [www.zaman.com].

However, the personality of Luayy Sakra presents a problem. He appears keen to claim an important role for himself, saying that he supplied the 9/11 terrorists with passports and money, and has been active “sending dozens of people to the US, England, Egypt, Syria and Algeria to accomplish the acts of violence.” He further stated that he had personally fought at Fallujah alongside Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, whom he claims is in hiding in northern Iraq, and that he had “killed 10 US soldiers with my bare hands.” His non-observance of the daily prayers and his drinking habits also complicate his image along with a cultivated ‘mysterious personality’ he presented during interrogation, during which he talked up his contacts with the CIA, the Syrian Mukhabarat, and the Turkish National Security Organization [www.zaman.com].

If Sakra’s revelations are credible, there will be much valuable information expected from the interrogation. However, given the indications that the London bombings came as a surprise to bin Laden, suspicions that al-Qaeda is less of an operative organization than a brand that militants use are being confirmed by Sakra. The implication for security authorities is that less and less will be achieved by focusing on al-Qaeda operationally, and that resources will be stretched further as it deals with dozens of small groups, each at least as dangerous as al-Qaeda once was, only much harder to track.