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Tracing the trail of radical Turks

From CNN Correspondent Mike Boettcher

Forensic police work in the garden of the bombed British consulate.
Forensic police work in the garden of the bombed British consulate.

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ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) -- As investigators continue to probe who may have orchestrated the string of deadly suicide bombings in Istanbul this month, authorities are pointing the finger at Turkish radicals with links to conflicts in Chechnya, Bosnia and Afghanistan.

Officials fear extremist Turks who've been waging conflict abroad, have brought their fight home.

Investigators say the trail of the Istanbul suicide bombers starts in Turkey, leads through Chechnya and Bosnia, along with Afghanistan and Iran, before ending back in Turkey.

Turkish media have reported that one of the bombers in the November 20 suicide blasts at the HSBC bank and the British consulate was a Turk believed to have fought with Islamic radicals in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

But authorities are seeking to answer whether the Turkish bombers were lone actors or did larger terrorist groups such as al Qaeda manipulate them.

Though Turkish leaders have said it is too early to confirm al Qaeda's involvement in the blasts at the British targets or earlier bombings at two synagogues, officials say the attacks bear the hallmarks of Osama bin Laden's terror network.

CNN has learned a coalition of Arab, Israeli and European investigators working the case strongly suspect that Abu Musab al Zarqawi helped organize the Turkish attacks.

Though Zarqawi is a close associate of bin Laden, he directs his own network of terrorist groups.

Zarqawi, a Jordanian, is the leading suspect in the suicide bombing of the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad on August 7. He is also believed to be a leader of the Iraqi terror group known as Ansar al-Islam. The U.S. has posted a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture. (Full story)

Zarqawi has been named by the Bush administration as an al Qaeda terrorist who fled to Iraq from Afghanistan in May 2002 for medical treatment and then stayed to organize terror plots with Ansar al-Islam.

The U.S. has posted a $5 million reward for information leading to Zarqawi's capture.
The U.S. has posted a $5 million reward for information leading to Zarqawi's capture.

Intelligence sources suspect Zarqawi is now hiding in neighboring Iran.

They say he also plays a lead role for two radical Islamic groups who operate in southeast Turkey near the Iraqi border -- Turkish Hezbollah and an equally dangerous and reclusive group called Beyyeat al-Imam, or Allegiance to the Imam.

According to Middle Eastern intelligence agencies, members of all three groups trained in Zarqawi's camp in Afghanistan from the late 1990's until 2001.

The groups may not be al Qaeda by name, but certainly by inspiration and methodology.

"Al Qaeda is not only a terrorist organization that attacked the U.S. on 9/11. Al Qaeda is also morphing into an ideology which unfortunately a lot of people have signed on for," explains terrorism analyst Peter Bergen.

Turkey had already been in al Qaeda's crosshairs.

Richard Reid, sentenced to life in a U.S. Federal prison for plotting to blow up an American airliner with a shoe bomb, reported back to bin Laden on a scouting mission he undertook in 2001 to identify future targets.

According to court documents, one of the countries he visited was Turkey.

Anti-terror coalition intelligence sources tell CNN that another figure, Abu Zubayda -- a top al Qaeda organizer now in custody -- established a network of al Qaeda safe houses in Turkey beginning in 1998.

In other developments in the Turkish investigation, authorities are tracing one more link to al Qaeda which leads to fundamentalist mosques in Germany in the heart of the expatriate Turkish community there.

It is believed to be the same radical Islamic community in Germany that, for a time, nurtured many of the 9/11 hijackers.

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