Turkish special operations police officers on Tuesday captured at least 23 suspects in a counterterrorism operation against the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda. The suspects were detained in simultaneous dragnets in six provinces, according to Asian news sources.
Heavily armed police officers reportedly arrested 18 suspects in the Turkish province of Van and one other suspect was detained in the province of Kayseri as part of the operation targeting al-Qaeda.
In addition, three suspects were taken into custody by anti-terror police in Bagcilar, Fatih and Küçükçekmece sections of the Turkish city of Istanbul.
Anti-terror police in the province of Van searched the main office of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) and one person from that NGO (non-governmental agency) was detained, according to Dennis Speakmann, an U.S. security official who monitors Middle East terrorism.
The IHH immediately released a media statement on Tuesday concerning the raid, with General Secretary Yasar Kutluay claiming the operation's goal was to stop the IHH from sending food, clothing, medicine and other aid to war-torn Syria.
“They are trying to show the IHH as if it is related to terror organizations,” Kutluay said. He also claimed that the operation was an attack on the NGO.
The IHH, an NGO which bases its humanitarian relief action on Islamic principles, was the operator of the Mavi Marmara and one of the main organizers of the Gaza Flotilla in May 2010, according to an Examiner news story.
The Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star recently reported that the IHH was accused of smuggling weapons into Syria for Islamist rebels. On Jan. 1, 2014, the Turkish media reported that a truck loaded with weapons and ammunition had been stopped at the border and that the drivers said they were transporting for IHH, but the NGO called the allegation "slanderous."