ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish authorities have arrested a suspected Islamic State member they believe was planning to attack a World War One commemoration at Gallipoli this week attended by hundreds of Australians and New Zealanders, police said on Wednesday.
The suspect, a Syrian national, was detained in Tekirdag, a northwestern province close to the Gallipoli peninsula, a Tekirdag police spokesman said.
Every year, Australians and New Zealanders travel to Turkey for memorial services commemorating the failed 1915 military campaign by ANZAC and allied forces to drive Ottoman troops from Gallipoli and the Dardanelles region.
On Wednesday, soldiers from New Zealand, Australia, Turkey and other countries held several services on the peninsula. At dawn on Thursday, Australians and New Zealanders are due to hold a special dawn service marking the landings by ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) forces.
The police spokesman did not specify which day the detained suspect may have been planning to carry out the alleged attack.
Turkey has said Islamic State was responsible for several bombings that took place in 2015 and 2016, which in total killed some 200 people. Although the militant group has not been active in Turkey of late, authorities still carry out routine operations against suspected Islamic State members.
This year’s ANZAC service comes a month after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan faced criticism from Australia and New Zealand for comments he made after a lone gunman killed 50 people in two mosques in the city of Christchurch on March 15.
Erdogan played a video from the shootings at local election rallies and said the gunman had targeted Turkey by saying in a manifesto posted online that Turks should be removed from the European half of Istanbul.
He also threatened to send back in coffins anyone who tried to take the battle to Istanbul.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, has been charged with 50 counts of murder for New Zealand’s worst peacetime mass shooting. Fifty other people were injured in the attacks, which occurred during Friday prayers.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones)