Ankara denies presence of al-Qaeda bases on Turkish soil


According to claims there is a camp for training of Syrian opposition fighters in the western province of Bolu. (Photo: Today’s Zaman, Üsame Arı)

30 January 2014 /ANKARA, TODAY’S ZAMAN

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has denied allegations by Israel’s military intelligence chief that there are al-Qaeda bases in Turkey, calling such claims “groundless.”

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç dismissed the Israeli claims, saying that Turkey had been subjected to al-Qaeda attacks in the past and is still under threat. Bilgiç also added that as a result of the drawn-out Syrian crisis, some groups sympathetic to the al-Qaeda ideology have found fertile ground in the war-torn country and that those group’s activities also posed a threat to Turkey.

“Turkey is fighting effectively against the groups that have made use of the situation in Syria and is in cooperation with the international community over the matter. Turkey is also fulfilling its obligations to the United Nations Security Council‘s pronouncements on al-Qaeda and groups affiliated with al-Qaeda,” Bilgiç said.

On Wednesday, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, speaking at a security conference at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, claimed that some of the al-Qaeda militants fighting in Syria have set up bases in Turkey, from where they can easily access Europe, according to news outlets.

Kochavi further alleged that al-Qaeda fighters from around the world enter Syria every week, but do not stay there.

At the conference Kochavi also presented a map of al-Qaeda bases; three provinces of Turkey — Karaman, Osmaniye and Şanlıurfa — were marked as bases of the terrorist organization.

“Syria is projecting its conflict to the whole region. Those blotches [on the map] in Turkey are no mistake by the graphic artist and it is a short way from there into Europe,” Kochavi said, according to Reuters.

Al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups, although initially not key players in Syria, have started to play an increasingly prominent role amid the power vacuum, posing a serious threat to the entire region.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly denied that his government was providing shelter for groups linked to al-Qaeda in Syria. Turkey, which has been a staunch supporter of the Syrian opposition fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad, is accused of providing logistical support to two al-Qaeda-linked groups — the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

On Thursday, an opposition lawmaker presented a formal question in Parliament to Prime Minister Erdoğan over allegations that members of al-Qaeda-linked groups receive military training in camps said to be in the Bolu Mountains in northwestern Turkey.

CHP Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu asked Erdoğan to state whether such camps, said to be giving commando training to al-Qaeda members, really exist, and if there is an al-Qaeda network in Bolu province and whether the military or the police department are planning search operations to find them.

Previous reports have alleged the existence of training camps for Syrian rebels in the southern province of Adana, close to the Syrian border, and of safe houses in border towns which are used by extremist fighters from other countries before they proceed to Syria.

Ankara has said several times that its stance towards the developments in Syria is clear and that it will not take part in the ongoing fighting, and that al-Qaeda-affiliated groups have threatened Erdoğan with initiating a series of “suicide attacks” in İstanbul and Ankara.

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