ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish police on Wednesday detained two suspected Islamic State militants who were believed to be planning suicide attacks during New Year’s celebrations in central Ankara, officials said.
The two men were detained in a raid on a house in the low-income Mamak neighborhood of Ankara, where police seized a suicide vest armed with a bomb and an explosive device that was fortified with ball bearings and metal sticks that had been placed inside a backpack. Police also seized bomb-making equipment, according to the Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s office.
The two Turkish nationals, identified by their initials M.C. and A.Y., did not put up a fight during the raid and were being questioned by anti-terrorism police. The state-run Anadolu Agency said the first suspect is 28 years old, the other is 40.
The prosecutor’s office said the men had staked out possible locations in Ankara, where they could carry out the attacks. Anadolu, quoting unnamed police and judiciary officials, said the would-be attackers were planning to detonate the bombs at two locations near bars and a shopping mall near Turkey’s central Kizilay district during the celebrations.
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“They were caught before they had the opportunity to take action,” the prosecutor’s office said.
A police statement said the first suspect had illegally crossed into “war zones” to join the IS group. It did not provide details. He was said to hold Turkey responsible for the deaths of his brother and uncle who died fighting for the extremist group and planned the attack in order to avenge their deaths. Anadolu said both men had taken part in fighting in Syria.
The private NTV news channel, quoting security sources, said the two had “frequently” moved in and out of Syria and that security officials had been monitoring their movements for the past month.
In October, two suicide bombers detonated bombs outside Ankara’s main train station as people gathered for a peace rally. The attack killed more than 100 people and was Turkey’s deadliest. The prosecutor’s office said the attack was carried out by a local cell of the Islamic State group.
More than 30 people were also killed in a IS suicide attack in the town of Suruc, near Turkey’s border with Syria, in July.
Earlier this year, Turkey agreed to take a more active role in the U.S.-led battle against the IS group. Turkey opened its bases to U.S. aircraft to launch air raids on the extremist group in Syria and has carried out a limited number of strikes on the group itself.
It has also moved to tighten security along its 900-kilometer (560-mile) border with Syria in a bid to stem the flow of militants.