Abu Zar, the leader of al Qaeda in Turkey, in a photograph taken in Afghanistan. The photograph is from a jihadist website.
Turkish security forces recently detained al Qaeda’s top leader in the country during raids that have netted more than 150 suspected operatives.
Police arrested Abu Zar, who is also known as Serdar Elbasa, and 30 other operatives during a raid in the city of Adana on Jan. 18. The raids led to intelligence that allowed police to detain an additional 120 people suspected of having ties to al Qaeda, during sweeps in 16 of Turkey’s provinces over the past 24 hours.
As the leader of al Qaeda’s wing in Turkey, Abu Zar focused on providing support to al Qaeda affiliates operating in Chechnya and Afghanistan, according to Zaman, a Turkish newspaper. Abu Zar recruited fighters in Turkey and dispatched them to the Caucasus to fight the Russians, and to Afghanistan to battle NATO forces. Several of the al Qaeda fighters captured on Jan. 18 admitted to having received training in camps in Afghanistan.
Abu Zar has also personally spent time fighting in both Afghanistan and Chechnya. Photographs of Abu Zar in Afghanistan have appeared on several jihadist websites. In addition, he recruited Chechens and Azeris to serve with him in Afghanistan. According to Zaman, police discovered that Abu Zar also fought in Chechnya in 2007 and was tasked by Doku Umarov, the leader of the Caucusus Emirate, to raise money to support the jihad there.
At the time of his capture, Abu Zar was plotting to attack the Turkish forces serving in Afghanistan as well as Turkish police at home, according to documents seized by police during a raid on Jan. 15. Police also discovered supplies that had been gathered to be sent to Afghanistan. Turkey currently has 1,755 troops operating in the Kabul region.
For the past six years, al Qaeda in Turkey has been under intense pressure by Turkish security forces. Periodic sweeps net dozens of suspected fighters and supporters. The group’s last major attacks took place in November 2003. On Nov. 15, 2003, two suicide truck bombs hit the Bet Israel and Neve Shalom synagogues in Istanbul, killing 21 Muslims and six Jews. Five days later, suicide truck bombs slammed into the HSBC Bank AS and the British Consulate in Istanbul, killing 30 people, including the top British diplomat in Turkey.
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