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Wire services are buzzing this morning with news that Turkish police arrested 120 alleged Al Qaeda members during simultaneous predawn raids in 16 provinces.
Al Qaeda has occasionally attacked foreign targets in Turkey — the 2003 bombings in Istanbul that targeted two synagogues, the British Consulate and a bank, and the 2008 U.S. consulate attack — and police occasionally round up small cells. Saturday's raid, however, is unusually large. Unnamed security sources told the BBC police seized weapons, fake identity cards and "camouflage clothing."
The arrests came after police detained Serdal Erbasi — a local Al Qaeda leader, also known as Abu Zahr — and several other high-level figures during raids last week against the group in Turkey’s southeast. The information gathered after his arrest led to today's raids, the country's semi-official Anatolian News Agency reported.
Erbasi fought the Russians in Chechnya before moving on to Afghanistan. A report in the newspaper Zaman said some of the suspects had been planning an attack on the Kabul regional command center of the NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan. Turkish forces took over the center’s rotating command in November.
Speculation abounds over who exactly all of the 120 people arrested are. While some are taking it as a given that this is one of Turkey’s largest round-ups of Al Qaeda members to date, others are arguing that it is likely that some of those detained might be "fellow travelers" — people who share Al Qaeda's ideology but aren't explicit members of the group — while others might be members of Turkish Hizballah.
Authorities conducted raids in parts of Turkey that include Ankara, Istanbul, Bursa, Adana and Diyarbakir, according to the report.