Israel: Al Qaeda setting up Syrian bases in Turkey
According to Avi Kochavi, Al Qaeda is tightening its grip in Syria by setting up bases in Turkey. (AFP/File)
Militants affiliated with Al Qaeda who are planning to fight in the Syrian civil war have assembled bases in neighboring Turkey and can have easy access to Europe, the chief of Israel's military intelligence said Wednesday.
Major-General Aviv Kochavi, presenting a map of the Middle East marked with areas of Al-Qaeda presence, told attendees at a security conference on Wednesday that fighters linked to the Sunni militant organization from around the world enter Syria on a weekly basis "but they do not stay" there, Reuters news agency reported.
The map that Kochavi presented showed three alleged Al Qaeda bases, according to Reuters.
A spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment, but Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly dismissed claims that his country is accomodating Al Qaeda-affiliated groups who are seeking to join the Syrian conflict, Reuters said.
Kochavi declined a request by Reuters to give specific numbers relating to the map, but his spokeswoman told the news agency that the map illustrated the stength and location of the Al Qaeda bases, which appeared to be in Turkey's Karaman, Osmaniye and Sanliurfa provinces.
"Syria is projecting its conflict to the whole region. Those blotches (on the map) in Turkey are no mistake by the graphic artist and it is a short way from there into Europe," Kochavi said at the conference held by the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Reuters reported.
The spots indicating Al Qaeda in Turkey on Kochavi's map paled in significance in comparison to the alleged militant outposts in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, which is home to some 200 Jihadi militants, according to Reuters.
Earlier this month, Turkish anti-terrorist forces cracked down on several organizations with alleged links to Al Qaeda, including the offices of an aid agency on the border with Syria.
Throughout the now nearly three-years-old Syrian conflict, neighboring Turkey has maintained an open-door policy, providing a humanitarian lifeline to many, giving refugees a means to leave the country and letting the rebel Free Syrian Army organise on its soil, according to Reuters.
But the rise of Al Qaeda-affiliated groups such as Jabhat Al Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in swathes of northern Syria near Turkey's border has resulted in many accusing Ankara of supporting radical Islamists.