updated 4/1/2004 2:12:32 PM ET 2004-04-01T19:12:32

Turkey, Italy, and Belgium arrested 53 militants in a coordinated crackdown Thursday on a Turkish Marxist group considered a terrorist organization by Washington, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said.

Police in Istanbul arrested 37 suspects of the Marxist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Army-Front, or DHKP-C, while security forces Italy and Belgium detained 16, an Interior Ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Turkish and German police have been preparing for the crackdown for the past year, while the Italian police became involved more recently, the official said.

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

The DHKP-C seeks to topple the Turkish government and replace it with a Marxist one. The group and its forerunner, Dev Sol, have claimed responsibility for a number of bombings in Turkey, including two suicide attacks in 2001 that killed three Istanbul policemen and an Australian woman. It has also carried out attacks in Germany and has targeted U.S. military personnel and diplomatic missions.

The group, which is branded as a terrorist organization by the State Department and by the European Union, was active before the 1980 coup in Turkey but has become increasingly marginalized due to a harsh police crackdown.

Sympathizers in Europe
Several leading members of the group fled to Europe, where it is believed the group has hundreds of sympathizers.

Police earlier said that a suspected DHKP-C militant was injured in Istanbul Thursday, reportedly when a bomb he was making exploded. But police later said the blast was a gas explosion in a home and that the injured man, Hasan Midilli, was not part of any militant organization, the Anatolia news agency reported.

In Italy, police arrested five people Thursday in the central town of Perugia, Italian Prosecutor Nicola Miriano said. About 100 police and Carabinieri paramilitary forces took part in those raids.

Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said the operation broke up the movement’s cell based in Perugia, and showed links between the Turks and Italian far-left militants. He said three of those detained were Italian.

Miriano said the three Italians were believed to have provided the suspected Turkish militants with money, equipment, cell phone cards and other logistical support. One of the three is a woman who married a Turkish suspect only to help him get papers, he said.

Belgian officials said eight suspects were detained by police.

In the Netherlands, police searched five addresses throughout the country at the request of Italian authorities in Perugia, said spokesman Wim de Bruin of the Dutch national prosecutor’s office.

De Bruin said evidence will be handed over to Italy but no arrests were made. There were also sweeps in Germany but no confirmed arrests.

One of those detained in Belgium was Fehriye Erdal, who was arrested in 1999 there in the slaying of a Turkish businessman in Istanbul and placed under house arrest.

Erdal’s lawyer, Jan Fermon told RTL-TVI that it appeared that Erdal was detained after she was discovered outside of the house where she was under house arrest.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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