| An unidentified suspect held in Istanbul on Saturday in connection with the suicide bomb attacks on the synagogues. (Reuters)
Istanbul, Nov. 30: Turkish intelligence officials believe that the mastermind behind the wave of suicide bombings in Istanbul, who was said to have died in the attack on the HSBC bank building, is in fact still at large and planning further attacks on British interests.
A terrorist alert issued last week by the Milli Istihbarat Teskilati (MIT), Turkey’s equivalent of the British internal intelligence agency MI5, identifies Azad Ekinci as the key figure in the attacks and warns that his group still has as many as seven specially adapted trucks that could be used in further attacks.
The alert was issued after DNA tests on remains recovered from the HSBC building failed to corroborate reports that Ekinci — whose remains were apparently buried during a funeral service last week — was among the four suicide bombers. “Ekinci is alive and he is the main player,” one MIT official said.
In an important breakthrough, Turkish police announced yesterday they had arrested the man who directed the attack on Istanbul’s main synagogue earlier this month. Halil Yilmaz, the city’s deputy police chief, said the suspect was arrested at the Agri Frontier post on the border with Iran. He said: “He went to the Beth Israel synagogue area with the other attackers on the day of the explosion and gave the order for the attack.”
Western intelligence agencies have warned terrorist cells from the Bingol region in eastern Turkey are active across Europe. “We’re putting increased scrutiny on the diaspora from Bingol,” a senior Whitehall official said.
The British foreign office infuriated the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Recep Erdogan, last week by warning that another attack on the British community in Ankara was imminent. British intelligence officials have, however, told the government that there is little confidence the MIT or the Turkish police will be able to stop another attack. “What is alarming is that the Turks are slightly muddled by this threat,” said the official. “They don’t even know how many trucks the bombers may have.”
At a meeting between American and Turkish intelligence officials in September, the Turks reported that the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders Front and Hezbollah, two groups with which the suicide bombers have been linked, had been rendered toothless by an official crackdown. It was a view attributed to Abdulkadir Aksu, the Turkish interior minister, who has been close to Islamic militants since the 1980s.
British embassies in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, and Berlin tightened security last week, installing concrete blast barriers and asking for more police patrols. In Germany, a suspected al Qaida member was arrested as a result of the warnings.
MIT officials say thebombers joined Turkish Hezbollah as schoolboys and Azad Ekinic and Mesut Cabuk travelled to Pakistan in the mid-1990s for training. According to neighbours in Bingol, Ekinic, 29, was an antisocial individual who was devoted to his mother, a closeness fostered in the wake of his father’s murder by leftist guerrillas during the Kurdish independence insurgency.