updated 3/20/2006 11:37:41 AM ET 2006-03-20T16:37:41

A judge ejected a top al-Qaida suspect from his courtroom Monday for contempt after the suspect refused to stand up before him on the opening day of his trial for allegedly masterminding the deadly Istanbul bombings.

Loa’i Mohammad Haj Bakr al-Saqa, from Syria, is on trial here along with 72 other suspected al-Qaida mpeople in Istanbul in 2003.

Judge Zafer Baskurt asked al-Saqa several times to stand up in court, and ordered him thrown out when he refused.

“My beliefs prevent me from standing in front of people like you,” al-Saqa told the judge.

As soldiers escorted him out, al-Saqa shouted: “I fought a Jihad! I killed Americans! I will not stand up before you!”

Al-Saqa, who has been jailed since his capture in August, recited verses from the Quran as he was escorted in and out of the courthouse.

Baskurt also ordered a spectator detained for shouting in support of al-Saqa.

Earlier, the judge also asked defense lawyer Osman Karahan — who was recently charged with aiding and abetting al-Qaida for allegedly giving money to one of his clients — to leave the courtroom. The judge barred the lawyer from the case for one year.  Karahan, who represents 14 of the 72 suspects as well as al-Saqa, faces up to 10 years in prison if tried and convicted.

The court on Monday released five of the 31 jailed suspects pending the conclusion of the trial and adjourned the trial until May 22.

Personal orders from bin Laden?
Turkish prosecutors claimed that Osama bin Laden personally ordered al-Saqa, 32, to carry out terror attacks in this predominantly Muslim but pro-Western country.

Al-Saqa is accused of serving as a point man between al-Qaida and homegrown militants behind the November 2003 bombings, which destroyed a British bank, the British Consulate and two synagogues, an indictment said. It said al-Saqa gave the Turkish militants about $170,000.

Al-Saqa and his alleged Syrian accomplice, Hamid Obysi, were captured in Turkey in August after an alleged failed plot to attack Israeli cruise ships. Obysi is also on trial but did not attend Monday’s hearing as he was reported to be sick.

Al-Saqa reportedly told interrogators that his failed plot to attack an Israeli cruise ship was financed by Taliban chief Mullah Omar, who allegedly gave him $50,000 to carry out attacks against Israeli targets in his name.

A prosecutor’s indictment said al-Saqa bought a speed boat and diving equipment to be used in that attack as well as an apartment in the Mediterranean resort of Antalya for use as a safe house.

Al-Saqa admitted to failed plans to make a bomb and stage an attack on Israeli tourist ships during his interrogation, police said. Al-Saqa and Obysi were captured after an accidental explosion forced them to flee the safe house in Antalya, the indictment said.

Seeking to evade capture, Al-Saqa had cosmetic surgery, according to a medical report, and used fake IDs and aliases even with his al-Qaida contacts, according to the indictment.

Accused of overthrow attempt
Al-Saqa has been charged with attempting to overthrow Turkey’s secular government, and the prosecutor has demanded life in prison for him.

Al-Saqa has already been sentenced in absentia by Jordan in 2002, along with al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, for a failed plot to attack Americans and Israelis in Jordan with poison gas during millennium celebrations.

Until recently, al-Saqa was not well-known in international intelligence circles despite his 2002 conviction. Authorities now believe that he was a key al-Qaida operative in Turkey and the Middle East.

Two Turkish terror suspects interrogated by Turkish, U.S. and British authorities at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq said al-Saqa served as a connection between the Istanbul bombers and al-Qaida.

Al-Saqa, who is implicated in the execution of two Turkish truck drivers by insurgents in Iraq, was also accused of bomb-making and smuggling explosives into Turkey. The Syrian also said he arranged for Turkish militants to meet with al-Zarqawi in Iraq to join the insurgency, the indictment said.

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