BEIRUT: Turkish authorities have issued warnings to Syrians working with opposition groups in Turkey, citing intelligence reports that Al-Qaeda-linked rebels are planning attacks against them during Syria peace talks in Switzerland, opposition sources said.
Emails were circulated to NGOs and opposition aid groups working close to the southern Turkish border with Syria urging staff to avoid the cities of Reyhanli and Antakya after authorities issued an alert warning of possible suicide attacks.
“Authorities have issued an alert stating that an extremist group is planning to conduct suicide attacks in Antakya, Istanbul and the capital Ankara. In addition, please be aware that an extraordinary alert has been given to Reyhanli, stating that an attack could be planned for 22 and 24,” the email, addressed to staff at an NGO working in Gaziantep and seen by The Daily Star, read.
“The potential targets could be places used by elements of the Syrian opposition, particularly those affiliated to the Free Syrian Army [FSA].”
Turkey has been a strong supporter of the Syrian opposition, hosting, along with some 600,000 refugees, rebel military commanders and opposition political bodies.
But Turkey’s policies on Syria have attracted criticism recently, amid accusations Turkey’s indiscriminate vetting process has provided Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and the Nusra Front safe haven on Turkish soil as well as passage in to Syria.
ISIS threatened Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with initiating a series of “suicide attacks” in Istanbul and Ankara and demanded that Turkey reopen the Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salameh border crossings, which authorities closed after ISIS seized control of the town of Azaz in September.
ISIS also claimed responsibility for twin car bombings in Reyhanli, which killed 53 people and wounded more than 100 in May.
More recently, fierce fighting has erupted in the north of Syria along the Turkish border between ISIS and more moderate rebel factions aligned with the FSA, who the Islamists have labeled traitors for coordinating with the West, ahead of talks between the regime and U.S.-backed opposition Syrian National Coalition.
The talks, dubbed “Geneva II,” began in the Swiss lakeside city of Montreux Wednesday.
“Reports indicate that extremist group plans to influence the Geneva II peace talks, to be held in Montreux on 22-24 January, by targeting elements of the Syrian opposition in Turkey,” the email said, also advising staff to avoid all public places, crowds and Turkish government buildings.
Opposition sources from the coalition said Turkey had warned the “Syrian opposition in exile” there was a risk of attack from the [Syrian] regime ... and from ISIS.”
“They said from the regime it could be a car bomb and from ISIS it could be a suicide bomber,” the official said.
Recent opposition meetings in Turkey have been held at secret locations, partly because of security concerns.