Terror Alert Issued Ahead of World War Commemoration Event

July 7, 2008 - 8:13 PM

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Turkish authorities are providing additional security at the site of this week's annual commemoration of a major World War I battle, amid reports that terrorists in Turkey may be planning attacks on Western targets in the coming days.

A Turkish newspaper reports that Ankara has sent two alerts to security units across the country, warning that al Qaeda terrorists were planning suicide or time-bomb attacks "within this month."

The alerts refer to the entry into Turkey from northern Iraq of "35 specially trained terrorists." The alerts also say targets for attack include Turkish, U.S., British, Australian, Israeli and Spanish facilities, according to the Zaman daily.

Officials of those countries would also be singled out for assassination, it added.

Of the countries named, Britain, Australia, Spain and Israel backed U.S. military action to oust Saddam Hussein, and the first two contributed troops to the effort.

The terror warning comes at an especially sensitive time for Australia.

Every year on April 25, thousands of Australians -- joined by thousands of New Zealanders -- visit Turkey to mark the anniversary of the Allied invasion of the Turkish peninsula of Gallipoli in 1915.

In a battle that historians say helped to forge the two fledgling countries' national identities, Australia and New Zealand -- with a combined population then of six million -- lost more than 10,000 men between them.

Both commemorate April 25 as ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day, a public holiday which also remembers the fallen in later conflicts, including Korea and Vietnam.

This year's event in Turkey will be attended, as usual, by government and military representatives as well as by ordinary visitors from Australia and New Zealand.

The two countries' governments said officials have been visiting Turkey to ensure security arrangements are adequate.

Wellington's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said New Zealand police officers who had been visiting Turkey were satisfied with the arrangements.

Security has become a priority issue for many Australians. Since last year's ANZAC Day, the two most significant events in Australian national life have been the loss of almost 100 citizens in a terrorist bombing in Bali, Indonesia, and Australia's participation in the military campaign to topple Saddam Hussein - a contribution critics predicted would lead to more terrorism against Australians.

Canberra advised those visiting Turkey for Anzac Day ceremonies to be aware of an increased risk of terrorism against Western interests, and to be especially careful in areas where Westerners congregate.

Australian police will be deployed together with their Turkish counterparts, and visitors have been warned that for the first time they should expect security checkpoints and searches before they enter the battle site areas.

Visitor figures are expected to be down from last year's 14,000, because of terrorism fears and the war in Iraq.

Despite the concerns and reports of the latest alert, the director of the Turkish Embassy's tourism division said Wednesday he was confident the Gallipoli ceremonies would be the best-organized ever and go without a hitch.

Erdal Aktan said from Sydney the Australian government had requested Ankara to provide extra security measures in the run-up and during the events, and this was being done.

He pointed out that Gallipoli was both a national park and a military zone. Even in previous years, when security levels had been lower, there had never been an incident at the annual events.

After months of discussions, "this year, in liaison with the Australian authorities, the Turkish government is providing additional security," Aktan said adding: "There is nothing to worry about."

The U.S. has also had a travel warning in place relating to Turkey for the past month, because of the war in Iraq.

On March 19 the State Department announced the voluntary departure of non-essential staff and family members at diplomatic missions in Turkey, and advised Americans to consider leaving the country.

An updated worldwide caution announcement this week reminded U.S. nationals of "the continuing threat of terrorist actions that may target civilians and of the need to remain vigilant."

According to Aktan, about 400,000 Americans visit Turkey each year.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.