Turkish court charges suspected al-Qaida militant in plot to attack Israelis
ISTANBUL, Turkey – A Syrian with suspected al-Qaida ties appeared in court Thursday amid charges he plotted to slam speedboats packed with explosives into cruise ships carrying Israeli tourists.Police, meanwhile, frantically searched for others linked to the suspect, who reportedly had plastic surgery to conceal his identity. Authorities were also hunting for two squads of possible suicide bombers, reports said.Defense lawyer Ilhami Sayan told reporters the man, identified in the Turkish media as Lu’ai Sakra, was charged in court with membership in an illegal organization. He was arrested on Aug. 6, Turkish media said.Police said Sakra is also suspected as a go-between for al-Qaida and Turkish extremists responsible for the 2003 bombings of two synagogues, the British Consulate and a British bank. The bombings killed some 60 people. He also is suspected of having helped the bombing masterminds flee the country.”I have no regrets,” Sakra shouted to journalists from a window after he was led into the courthouse. “I was going to attack Israeli ships. If they come, my friends will attack them.””I had prepared a ton of explosives,” he added in a barely audible voice.He also shouted “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” before officials pulled him back and closed the window. He spoke in Turkish with an Arabic accent.A police official said Sakra was planning to attack Israeli cruise ships with speedboats packed with explosives. The official was speaking on condition of anonymity because only top officials are allowed to comment on the record without prior authorization.A Turkish police official said security forces were looking for other suspects linked to Sakra. Private NTV television said police were searching for two teams of possible suicide bombers. Other details were not available.Israel on Thursday canceled its travel warning to Turkey, with the country’s counterterrorism center saying the move was the result of efforts by Turkish security forces. But Israeli tourists were urged to excercise caution.While authorities suspect he was still in contact with al-Qaida operatives planning an attack, defense attorney Osman Karahan said his client denies he is a member of any organization and insisted he was acting alone. Karahan said Sakra was found with 1,650 pounds of explosives.”He was planning to hit Israeli ships in international waters with these explosives,” CNN-Turk quoted him as saying.A statement from police headquarters said the suspect had an important position within al-Qaida and had undergone plastic surgery. The Hurriyet newspaper said he underwent plastic surgery several times.Five cruise ships carrying some 5,000 Israeli tourists have been diverted from Turkish ports to Cyprus in recent days following intelligence reports that a terror attack was imminent. Turkey is a top vacation destination for Israelis, with more than 300,000 visiting each year.Sakra faces up to five years in prison if convicted of membership in an illegal group.The semiofficial Anatolia news agency said Sakra also shouted from the courthouse that he had killed U.S. soldiers in Fallujah, Iraq.Another Syrian, identified by Anatolia Hamed Obysi, whom Turkish reports said was an al-Qaida courier, was charged Wednesday with membership in a terrorist organization.Suspects tried in Turkey for the 2003 bombings said they originally were planning to attack an Israeli cruise ship in the Mediterranean, according to a court indictment.Police said in a statement that the two Syrians were detained following an investigation into a fire that broke out in the early hours of Aug. 4 in a house in Antalya. The bomb squad and police intelligence officers were brought in after neighbors notices strong chemical odor coming from the house.
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