Three die in raids on Islamist cells: Turkish police

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey – A police officer and two militants were killed in fighting during raids on suspected radical Islamist cells in southeast Turkey, police sources said on Thursday.

Four police officers were wounded, two seriously, in the raids on houses belonging to an Islamic militant group in and around the city of Gaziantep at around 2 a.m. (0000 GMT), the sources said.

The sources earlier identified the group as al Qaeda but officials declined to comment on their identity amid speculation they could belong to the Turkish Islamist militant group Hizbullah.

Police said the fighting erupted after their calls for the militants to surrender were met by gunfire.

Eighteen people were detained, while two militants remained holed up in one house refusing to surrender, the sources said.

Police closed the area around the house to traffic and five armored vehicles were sent after two explosions. It was not clear if the blasts caused damage or casualties. Ambulances and bomb disposal teams were also sent to the area.

Gaziantep Governor Suleyman Kamci said there was still no definite information on the identity of the group.

Police found a large number of weapons and documents during the raids, according to the Web site of broadcaster CNN Turk.

State-run Anatolian news agency said six pistols and a rifle were seized during the operation. It said a passerby had also been injured in the raids, which targeted 18 locations in Gaziantep and neighboring Kahramanmaras.

Turkish police have carried out a series of operations across the country against people suspected of links to al Qaeda in recent months.

In 2003 the group claimed responsibility for suicide bomb attacks against the British consulate, two synagogues and an HSBC bank in Istanbul, which killed more than 60 people.

Earlier this month, Turkish police detained more than 40 suspected members of the Hizbullah group, which is not believed to be linked to the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.

Hizbullah emerged in the late 1980s during fighting between Kurdish separatist guerrillas and Turkish troops. It killed scores of people, targeting mainly Kurdish separatist rebel sympathizers.

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