Suspect in Al-Qaeda Bombings Disrupts Trial in Turkey

By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 21, 2006

ISTANBUL, March 20 -- The al-Qaeda operative accused of organizing the 2003 Istanbul bombings and a botched attempt to sink an Israeli cruise ship appeared in a Turkish courtroom on Monday -- and did his best to take it over.

Louai al-Sakka, 32, who by his own account worked beside insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, first told the court he was someone else, then was hustled out of the morning session after refusing to stand to address the judge.

"I performed jihad and killed Americans! Why should I stand up in front of you?" Sakka shouted as guards tugged him toward the door. "Should I stand in front of these liars?"

Sakka, a Syrian described by Turkish officials as a senior figure in al-Qaeda, is accused of providing other operatives with about $170,000 from the group to carry out four truck bombings that killed 57 people over two days in November 2003.

Monday was the opening day of trial for Sakka, who is being prosecuted along with 72 Turks. With the Turks' trial winding down after more than two years, defense attorneys argued unsuccessfully Monday that adding Sakka to the case would cause even further delay.

"I'm not holding a bomb. I just want to talk," Sakka told Judge Zafer Baskurt in the afternoon session, after being summoned from a back row where he had been mugging and joking with other defendants. He again refused to stand, indicating he acknowledged only Islamic law.

The judge responded by recessing the proceedings for two months.

Further complicating the trial, Sakka's attorney was ordered off the case Monday because he faces charges himself. Turkish prosecutors accuse Osman Karahan, a proponent of militant Islam in good standing with the Turkish bar, of aiding and abetting a terrorist organization. Karahan, who also represented 14 other defendants in the Istanbul case, said the indictment falsely links him to last year's bombings of the London transit system.

"All these efforts are to prevent Sakka from talking, because if he talks, a few states would collapse," Karahan said. Sakka already faces prison in Jordan, where he and Zarqawi were convicted in absentia for plotting to blow up hotels and tourist landmarks in the so-called millennium plot. Turkish police arrested him in August while he was allegedly completing plans to steer an explosives-laden yacht into an Israeli cruise ship off the Turkish coast. The plan was discovered when fire broke out in the apartment where he and an accomplice were constructing the bomb, authorities said.

Karahan has quoted Sakka as saying he planned to die attacking the cruise ship. He supposedly believed he would be captured otherwise; his identity was known despite efforts to alter his face through plastic surgery.

On Monday, however, his identity was at issue. More than 20 journalists failed to recognize Sakka as he entered the court building. Cleanshaven and skinny at the time of his arrest, the defendant had put on substantial weight in prison and grown a full beard. He insisted to the judge that his name was Ekrem Ozel, the name on the identity card he was using when arrested, and demanded he be fingerprinted to prove it.

Karahan said he was not sure of his client's identity, either. He said that Sakka, who specialized in moving Islamic militants through Turkey with false papers, had moved in and out of Turkey 55 times on 18 different passports.

"This is going to be a case of worldwide importance, so we need to determine scientifically exactly who he is," Karahan said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company