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Dozens Seized in Sweep on Turk Militants

THE WORLD

Raids in five countries are aimed at radical anti-American group and its supporters.

April 02, 2004|Tracy Wilkinson | Times Staff Writer

ROME — In a dragnet spanning five countries, authorities Thursday arrested more than 50 people suspected of belonging to or aiding a far-left Turkish group blamed for a string of deadly bombing and shooting attacks against Americans and Turks.

Those detained included alleged Turkish militants and European leftists accused of raising money on their behalf. The coordinated, predawn raids capped a yearlong investigation by Turkish, German and, finally, Italian police who said they used 56,000 hours of bugged telephone conversations to build their case.

The group, the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP-C, is one of several radical factions that have menaced Turkish governments off and on throughout the years. Virulently anti-American, it advocates overthrowing the government in Ankara and installing a Marxist one, and it is listed as an outlawed terrorist organization by Washington and the European Union.

Fourteen Americans were killed by the group between 1979 and 1991, U.S. officials said. In the 1990s, DHKP-C militants launched rocket attacks on the U.S. air base at Incirlik, Turkey, and the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul and killed two U.S. military contractors, officials said. The radical faction also claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings in Istanbul in 2001 that killed three police officers and an Australian citizen.

Its attacks have been largely limited to Turkey, and there are no known ties between the DHKP-C and Islamic extremists. However, authorities said the operation that culminated in Thursday's arrests exposed the significant cross-border ties between groups with similar goals.

"This consolidates the hypothesis that individuals or groups of Italian subversives, pushed by common anti-American and anti-Western views, can contact and collaborate with international terrorism," Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu told reporters here.

Police in Istanbul arrested 37 people. Masked Carabinieri paramilitary police detained three Italians and two Turks in the Italian city of Perugia, in the idyllic Umbrian hills north of Rome. Eleven suspects were taken into custody in Belgium, and raids were also conducted in Germany and the Netherlands, authorities said.

Prosecutors said the Italians who were arrested were believed to have provided Turkish militants with money, equipment and cellphone calling cards. One of the Italians, a woman, was believed to have married a Turkish militant so that he could get residency papers, prosecutors said.

Among the Italians in custody is Moreno Pasquinelli, spokesman for a radical Italian group called the Anti-Imperialist Camp. Pasquinelli, on his group's website and in publications, has been attempting to raise money for "the Iraqi resistance."

In an interview with The Times in February, Pasquinelli said that by "resistance" he meant political parties that would govern a sovereign Iraq. He said he was not involved in providing weapons to Iraqi fighters; there were already plenty of weapons in Iraq, he noted. At that time, he said he had raised only about $13,000.

But the BBC said Pasquinelli told it in an interview last year that he supported the "armed struggle" in Iraq and that Iraqis could use his money to "buy weapons, Kalashnikovs or medicines for people."

Pasquinelli, 47, is a veteran of hard-line communist parties in Italy and has had occasional brushes with law enforcement. Last month, he helped organize a massive antiwar rally in Rome that demanded the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq.

On Thursday, the website operated by Pasquinelli's group protested the arrests.

"Today's arrests are obviously a reprisal against all those who support the resistance and liberation struggle of the Iraqi people against the barbaric and illegitimate occupation led by the U.S. and its allies, among them Italy," it said

Prosecutors said Pasquinelli and another Italian suspect were believed to have collected about $50,000 for the Turkish militants in 2002 and 2003. Pasquinelli is also accused of harboring Turkish suspect Avni Er, who was among those arrested Thursday in Italy and was described as a key leader of the DHKP-C in Europe.

The phone taps, along with computer records confiscated Thursday, showed that calls claiming responsibility for five bombings in Turkey last year were made from an apartment in Perugia where Er was living, investigators said.

"[This] capture is accompanied by the collection of a mountain of material, which will be studied and vetted," Chief Prosecutor Nicola Miriano told a news conference in Perugia.

The DHKP-C has about 2,000 sympathizers in Italy and across Europe, Miriano said. The European cells were primarily used for propaganda, recruitment and logistical support, he said.

"The interesting aspect of [Thursday's] raids," said analyst Sarah Meyers of the London-based risk assessment consultancy Control Risks, "is that they exposed a broader network of links between the DHKP-C and European leftist groups than was previously known."

Special correspondent Amberin Zaman in Ankara and Livia Borghese of The Times' Rome Bureau contributed to this report.

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