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Al-Qaeda Arrests

jc/th, afp/dpa/apApril 21, 2009

Both the current and future EU president countries have come out in support of Ankara's bid for membership. Meanwhile, Turkish police detained more than 30 people suspected of ties to al-Qaeda.

Graphic of veiled man holding a gun
Turkey says it's arrested dozens of terroristsImage: AP Graphics

Turkey's Anatolia news agency reported on Tuesday that anti-terrorist authorities detained 37 individuals in early morning raids in five provinces. The agency added that seven of the suspects were thought to have received armed training in militant camps in Afghanistan.

A Turkish newspaper reported in March that Ankara had been given intelligence from the US that al Qaeda was possibly planning attacks in Turkey.

A Turkish cell of al-Qaeda is considered responsible for the 2003 bombings of two synagogues, the British consulate and a British bank in Istanbul. At least 58 people died, and hundreds were injured, in those attacks. In 2007, seven men were sentenced to life imprisonment for involvement in the bombings.

Tuesday's arrests came as officials from Ankara met with EU representatives to discuss Turkey's prospects of joining the bloc.

Czech and Swedish support

Forensic officers examine the outside of the Neve Shalom Synagogue after an explosion in Istanbul
Turkey was rocked by al-Qaeda bombings in 2003Image: AP

Turkey's bid to become part of the EU has stumbled in recent years amid skepticism that the economic and cultural differences between it and other member states might be too great.

But emerging from their meeting in Prague, both sides of the talks were up-beat.

"The continuing accession negotiations show that Turkey is getting closer and closer to the EU," Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, told reporters.

That optimism was echoed by Sweden, which takes over the EU's rotating presidency on July 1.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said that Turkey's would-be candidacy was "supported by a vast majority of countries and by a vast majority in the European parliament."

Turkey said it would continue to push for the opening of official accession negotiations.

"There is strong consensus about the continuation of the whole process, it is a win-win process for the EU and for Turkey, so why don't we continue it and have a big discussion at the very end?" Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told reporters.

But although Tuesday's arrests of al-Qaeda suspects could be interpreted as positive evidence for Turkey's readiness to join the EU, other questions loom.

In particular, the EU has been clear that Turkey would have to officially recognize the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member since 2004, before any concrete progress has been made.

Cyprus has been divided into a Greek Cypriot south and Turkish Cypriot north since the 1974 Turkish invasion in response to a coup by Greek Cypriots seeking unification of the island with mainland Greece.