Confirmation of al-Qaeda’s role in last November’s suicide truck bombings in Istanbul came on September 13 at the trial of the 69 Turkish suspects, deferred since last May pending judicial reorganization. Of those charged with complicity in the bombing against two synagogues, a London-based bank and the British Consulate in Istanbul, which killed a total of 61 people. The most important figure was Harun Ilhan. Admitting that he and two other suspected ringleaders — Habib Akdas and Gurcan Bac — were responsible, Ilhan openly referred to himself as ‘an al-Qaeda warrior’. He remained truculent throughout his court appearance, refusing to acknowledge the court’s jurisdiction and demanding that he be given prisoner-of-war status. Ilhan also warned that if Turkey continued to support the USA, “we will never leave the Republic of Turkey, the price will be paid.” He also underlined how al-Qaeda is now independent of bin Laden’s fate, and that if he dies ‘yeni Usame’ler çýkaracaktýr’, “new Osamas will arise” (maksimum.com, September 13).
Details emerging from the trial underline the role played by al-Qaeda in developing the terror network. Although from Ilhan’s evidence al-Qaeda did not appear to have a structure in Turkey, the November attacks being carried out by ‘an operations group’, a second suspect, Adnan Ersoz, detailed how he had been trained to use light weapons during a trip to Afghanistan, and how Abu Hafs al-Masri, bin Laden’s one time lieutenant, had given him U.S. $8,900 to bring Turks to Afghanistan to wage jihad (Turkish Daily News, September 14). Ersoz confirmed that al-Qaeda had originally mulled an attack on an Israeli ship making a call in Turkey, or on the southern Turkish Incirlik air base used by U.S. aircraft in the campaign against Iraq. Habib Akdas, now believed to have been killed during a recent U.S. bombing in Iraq, was tasked with researching the target, and appears to have received US $150,000 from al-Qaeda supporters in Syria and Iran. Turkey has recently abolished the death penalty, so prosecutors are demanding life sentences for five suspects with direct roles in the bombings.