Suspected ISIS Member Arrested Over Plan to Carry Out Terror Attack

By Zachary Stieber

A suspected ISIS terrorist was arrested in Turkey on April 23 on suspicion of planning to attack a World War l commemoration at Gallipoli.

The commemoration will be attended by hundreds of Australians and New Zealanders.

The suspect named by local media as Abdulkerim Hilef and Turkish authorities said that he’s a 26-year-old Syrian national. A picture circulated online showed a young man with short hair and some facial hair.

A source told the Herald Sun that police think Hilef was planning to bomb the commemoration on April 25 or drive a car into the crowd.

The man was arrested in Tekirdag, a couple of hours from Gallipoli, after a police raid of an ISIS cell in Ismaniye, close to the Syrian border, yielded information about the planned attack. The info was gleaned from cellphones and SIM cards.

Turkish security sources told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the planned attack was in retaliation for the recent attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The threat came after Turkey banned Turkish citizens from attending the Anzac Day service on April 25 due to security concerns and after Turkish authorities arrested four Syrians on April 16 and another suspected ISIS member on April 18.

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.

Commemoration activities were scheduled for both Wednesday and Thursday.

The New Zealand Defense Force said in a statement obtained by 1 News that it was aware of reports that the suspected ISIS member was arrested.

Turkish Air Force aerobatic team Turkish Stars perform during an international service marking the 104th anniversary of the World War I battle of Gallipoli at the Turkish memorial Mehmetcik monument on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Canakkale, on April 24, 2019. (Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images)

“This is a matter for the Turkish Authorities,” the defense force said in a statement.

Some tour guides at the Anzac Cove site told Stuff, a New Zealand outlet, that many people who planned to attend the commemorations had canceled their trips following the Christchurch attacks.

One guide said the company he worked for fielded a number of cancellations from people who said they were worried about security.

He said he’d attended the service for the past 22 years but wouldn’t this year. “It is sad. This is my place, this is my life,” he said.

Turkey has said ISIS was responsible for several bombings that took place in 2015 and 2016, which in total killed some 200 people. Although the terrorist group has not been active in Turkey of late, authorities still carry out routine operations against suspected ISIS members.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 29, 2019. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

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.

Reuters contributed to this report.