Do Turkish Attacks Signal Terror Revival?

ByJim Sciutto

I S T A N B U L, Turkey, Nov. 20, 2004 -- The Turkish group that claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings in Istanbul today and two others on Saturday was well known in Turkey a decade ago.

IBDA/C, the Turkish acronym for the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders Front, is suspected of killing a Turkish journalist in 1992 with a bomb placed in his car, and another reporter in 1993. Both had been writing about domestic Islamic terrorist organizations. The group is also believed to have carried out attacks on bars, discos and Christian churches.

But the group had been mostly inactive since the mid-1990s, and its leader, Salih Izzet Erdis, was arrested in 1996 and sentenced to life in prison last year.

It is one of several Islamist radical groups that the Turkish authorities believed they had effectively dismantled in a country-wide crackdown in the late 1990s.

"All these groups were crushed by police operations," said Nilufer Narli, a Turkish terrorism analyst. "Their leaders were either killed or jailed. They lost their financial sources, they lost their human sources. These groups would like to re-emerge so they can easily attach themselves to an international terrorist organization."

It is the size and style of the bombings that Turkish authorities say point to help from the outside. IBDA/C had never killed large numbers of Muslim civilians and had never mounted large-scale suicide attacks. Officials in Turkey and Britain suspect al Qaeda involvement.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the Turkish attacks had "every hallmark of the cowardlyand indiscriminate acts of terrorism of al Qaeda and its associates."

In Turkey, analysts say the IBDA/C claim suggests a revival of extremist activity in the country.

"Many people thought that radicalism faded away," said Narli. "But now we see radical groups trying to rejuvenate themselves through linking themselves to al Qaeda and using the resources of al Qaeda. Of course, it's very worrying for Turkey."

Al Qaeda is believed to have had a presence in Turkey for years. The larger organization provided money to small Turkish terrorist groups in the 1990s. It has also smuggled terrorists into Europe through safe houses in Turkey, including a student hostel in Istanbul.

Interviewed at the hostel by ABCNEWS earlier this year, a clerk said, "Many people, they work for al Qaeda. I'm not going to call the police against [Turkish] Hezbollah, al Qaeda. I'm not going to do this."

A revival of domestic Islamic terrorism would pose political problems for Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, which has its roots in a conservative Islamic party that was outlawed for suspected links to Muslim extremists.

Opposition leaders have already criticized the ruling party for releasing hundreds of Islamic militants from prison under a four-month-old amnesty

The country's Muslim terrorist groups, including IBDA/C, seek an Islamic state based on strict religious law. Turkish authorities fear that what support they could not find at home, they may now be getting from al Qaeda.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events