Police detained four Islamic State group (I.S.) suspects who were allegedly planning to carry out a “sensational” attack in Turkey and seized 24 suicide attack belts, officials said Thursday.
The latest detentions came as CIA chief Mike Pompeo arrived in Turkey to discuss the fight against the extremist group in Syria and Iraq, making his first overseas trip since taking office.
The suspects were put under custody in an anti-terror operation in Gaziantep, near the border with Syria, according to Gaziantep provincial governor’s office. Police found the suicide belts — made with 150 kilograms of explosives and fortified with metal pieces — as well as two automatic rifles, 14 kilograms (31 pounds) of TNT and other materials during the operation, it said.
There were no details on the suspects’ nationalities, who were allegedly taking orders from high-level I.S. members in Syria. One suspect was wanted for membership in a terror organization, according to the governor’s office.
Last year, Turkey suffered a series of deadly attacks carried out by I.S. or Kurdish militants and has stepped up anti-terrorism operations across the country. Some 750 people with alleged I.S. links were detained in a major police sweep in 29 Turkish provinces last week.
A Turkish official said Pompeo was to meet with his Turkish counterpart, Hakan Fidan, as well as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in Ankara. The talks will include plans for a possible operation to retake the I.S. stronghold of Raqqa, said the security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations.
Pompeo’s visit follows a phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Erdoğan.
Turkey is hoping for a reset in relations with the United States that were strained under the Obama administration over Turkish demands for the extradition of a U.S-based cleric, Fethullah Gülen, who Turkey has accused of orchestrating a failed coup. Turkey was also angered by U.S. backing for Syrian Kurdish fighters, since it considers them terrorists because of their links to outlawed Kurdish rebels in Turkey.
Turkey, whose troops are currently trying to liberate the town of I.S.-held town of al Bab in Syria, is pressing for a joint operation with the U.S. to re-capture Raqqa without the Syrian Kurdish group’s involvement.
The security official said during talks with Pompeo, Turkey would also seek greater U.S. cooperation in Turkey’s struggle against the Gülen’s movement and the Kurdish rebels.