Turkish anti-terrorist police raid aid agency near Syrian border

ISTANBUL Tue Jan 14, 2014 5:38am EST

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish anti-terrorist police raided the offices of an aid agency on the border with Syria on Tuesday, in part of what local media said was an operation in six cities against individuals suspected of links to al Qaeda.

The Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) said police had raided its offices in the southern Turkish city of Kilis, which borders Syria, and detained one person.

The IHH came to prominence in May 2010 when Israeli marines stormed its Mavi Marmara ship to enforce a naval blockade of the Palestinian-run Gaza Strip and killed nine Turks in clashes with activists.

"IHH aid is delivered to Syrian babies, children and those who freeze in the cold ... This is an operation to change perceptions (about IHH) and stop aid from being delivered inside Syria," the group said in a statement.

Turkey has maintained an open-door policy throughout the Syrian conflict, providing a lifeline to rebel-held areas by allowing humanitarian aid in, giving refugees a route out and letting the rebel Free Syrian Army organize on its soil.

But the rise of al Qaeda-linked groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in parts of northern Syria near the border has left Ankara open to accusations it is lending support to radical Islamists.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly denied Turkey is providing shelter or backing to al Qaeda-linked groups in Syria.

Turkey's Dogan news agency said police were carrying out raids against al Qaeda suspects in six cities including Istanbul as well as Gaziantep and Adana near the Syrian border.

Police had no immediate comment.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Ralph Boulton)

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