Militants taken into custody across Europe

ANKARA, Turkey -- A sweep against a militant Turkish group netted more than 50 suspects in three European countries Thursday in what experts said could be the fruit of increased security cooperation before the Athens Olympics.

The suspects were picked up in Turkey, Italy and Belgium after security forces there and in Germany and the Netherlands launched raids against houses used by the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP-C, a Marxist group that calls for the overthrow of the Turkish government.

Turkey has been pressing Europe to crack down on the DHKP-C and other groups, and the Europeans want Turkey to seal its porous borders so that Islamic militants do not sneak into their countries.

Suicide bombers believed to be linked to al-Qaida carried out four bombings in Istanbul in November.

"Turkish calls to catch and extradite terrorists in Europe went unheeded for years. Now they started acting only because they need Turkey's cooperation in the fight against terrorism," said Emin Demirel, the author of several books on Turkish militant groups.

The U.S. State Department and the European Union consider the DHKP-C a terrorist organization. The DHKP-C and its forerunner, Dev Sol, have claimed the killings of generals, police officers, government officials and foreigners in Turkey. It has also targeted U.S. military personnel and diplomatic missions.

Some DHKP-C leaders fled Turkey after a 1980 military coup, and hundreds of activists or sympathizers are believed to live in Europe.

Istanbul police arrested 37 suspected militants Thursday, a Turkish Interior Ministry official said. He said 16 other militants were arrested in Europe.

Officials in Italy confirmed the arrest of five suspects, and Belgian authorities said they detained eight. Dutch and German officials confirmed police searches in their countries. Dutch officials said there were no arrests. A German prosecutor could not confirm any arrests.

Turkey's semiofficial Anatolia news agency said Avni Er, reportedly the head of the DHKP-C in Europe, was arrested in Italy. Turkish Interior Ministry officials could not immediately confirm that report.

Turkish and German police have been preparing for Thursday's crackdown for the past year and Italian police were later involved in the investigation, the Turkish Interior Ministry official said.

German and Italian police discovered during their investigations that the DHKP-C was also active in the Netherlands and Belgium and coordinated the European crackdown outside of Turkey, the official said.

In Italy, about 100 police and Carabinieri paramilitary forces arrested three Italians and two Turks on Thursday. All three Italians are from the radical movement Anti-Imperialist Camp, officials said.

Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said the operation broke up the movement's cell in Perugia and showed that Italian far-left groups "can get in touch and cooperate with international terror organizations, driven by common anti-American and anti-West inclinations."

There were no indications, however, that the group was planning an imminent attack in Italy, said Perugia Prosecutor Nicola Miriano.

In the Netherlands, police searched five places at the request of Italian authorities, said spokesman Wim de Bruin of the Dutch national prosecutor's office. De Bruin said evidence was taken and will be handed over to Italy.

In Germany, police searched three apartments in two states, at the request of Italian prosecutors in Perugia, said Duesseldorf prosecutor Johannes Mocken.

Nihat Ali Ozcan, a terror expert in Turkey, said "there was lack of cooperation in the field of security and now they want to mutually solve this problem quickly. The rising terror risk during Olympics is fueling this trend but the main reason is they want to make sure Turkey seals its borders and cracks down on Islamic terrorists."