Turkish police detained Syrian al-Qaida militant

Turkish police arrested a Syrian man likely to be an al-Qaida member of a Turkish cell that carried out the 2003 Istanbul terrorist attacks. The attacks left 60 people dead.

The news of the detention came after more than 5,000 Israelis on five cruise ships were diverted from Turkish ports to Cyprus in recent days amid intelligence that a terror attack was imminent.

Turkish media reported Wednesday that the Syrian was one of 10 people detained who were plotting to attack Israeli cruise ships docking at vacation resorts on the Mediterranean coast, but Turkish police later denied such reports. It was not immediately clear when the 10 were detained.

Israel on Monday urged its citizens not to visit beach resorts on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, with one official saying that although Turkey was cracking down on terror threats the travel warning would remain in force.

"As soon as the threat is removed we will remove our travel warning," said Emmanuel Nahshon, the Israeli deputy ambassador in Ankara. "It is not Turkey, it is just a particular area."

Turkey, whose population is mostly Muslim, is a top vacation spot for Israelis and more than 300,000 visit each year.

Police confirmed that a Syrian national who was detained is believed to have acted as a mediator between al-Qaida and Turkish extremists responsible for the 2003 bombings of two synagogues, the British Consulate and a British bank. The Syrian also is believed to have helped the bombing masterminds flee the country, Turkish police added, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. Turkish civil servants are only allowed to speak on the record with prior authorization.

Police believe that the Syrian is still in contact with al-Qaida operatives who are planning future attacks, the officials said.

The officials, however, could not confirm that those attacks included plots to attack Israeli tourists.

Police said the Syrian was detained in Antalya, a beach resort that is so popular with Israelis that there are direct flights from Tel Aviv.

CNN-Turk television later reported that he was detained in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit the majority Kurdish city later this week and there is expected to be a massive police presence.

Suspects tried in Turkey for the 2003 bombings said they were originally planning to attack an Israeli cruise ship in the Mediterranean, according to a court indictment.

Turkey's NTV television said that nine of the people arrested Wednesday were checking the timetables of cruise lines.

Turkey's police headquarters, however, later issued a statement saying that media reports that "members of the al-Qaida organization were caught with C-4 (plastic) explosives as they prepared to attack foreign ships in our southern provinces are totally false."

Police would not elaborate on the statement, the AP reports.

The issue of attacks at tourist resorts is extremely sensitive in Turkey. This year, Turkey is hoping to host some 22 million tourists and the industry is projected to bring in US$19.5 billion (Ђ15.77 billion) in revenue, a 50 percent increase over last year.

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