updated 9/13/2004 6:15:36 PM ET 2004-09-13T22:15:36

A suspected leader of a cell accused in deadly suicide attacks in Turkey boasted Monday that he was an “al-Qaida warrior” and warned in court of future attacks if Turkey continued to support the United States.

The defendant, Harun Ilhan, told the court that he and two other suspected ringleaders who remained at large — Habib Akdas and Gurcan Bac — were behind the bombings in November that killed 61 people in Istanbul.

“I accept that I am an al-Qaida warrior,” said Ilhan, who opened his testimony with a brief prayer and at times refused to stand during the trial.

Ilhan, a bearded man who wore blue jeans and sports shoes to the hearing, also praised the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against New York and Washington and said that while Osama bin Laden was mortal, “jihad [holy war] is eternal.”

“Even if Osama dies, our jihad will continue,” he told the court. “Al-Qaida exists in all of the Islamic world for victory, and until this fight is finished with success it will continue.”

Ilhan said that if Turkey gave support to the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq and continued its friendly ties with Israel, “we will never leave the Republic of Turkey. The price will be paid.”

“The war is not over, and it will continue until imperialist forces withdraw” from Muslim countries, he said.

Nine suspects out of 69 on trial in the suicide truck bombings appeared in court Monday to testify for the first time.

Prosecutors are demanding life sentences for five suspects who they say played direct roles in the bombings. The 64 others could face prison sentences ranging from 4½ to 22½ years. Ilhan said most of the 69 suspects were not directly involved in the bombings.

Meeting with Abu Hafs
Another defendant, Adnan Ersoz, testified that he arranged a meeting in 2001 between Abu Hafs al-Masri, a former top lieutenant of bin Laden, and Akdas.

At the meeting, al-Masri agreed to give $8,900 to that Turks to Afghanistan to wage jihad, Ersoz said. Al-Masri said al-Qaida was also interested in carrying out an attack on an Israeli ship making a call in Turkey or on the southern Turkish Incirlik air base, which is used by U.S. jets, Ersoz testified.

Ersoz told the court that Akdas was interested in meeting bin Laden and that the two attended a talk by him a few days later.

He said Akdas later told him that he had received $150,000 from al-Qaida-linked people in Syria and Iran. Ersoz denied any direct involvement in the later attacks.

Co-defendant allegedly dead
Turkish television stations broadcast a video Friday showing a body that militants in the tape said was that of Akdas. The militants said Akdas was killed in a U.S. bombing raid in Iraq. Police sources said Monday that Akdas’ uncle identified the body as his nephew’s.

Turkish authorities have said Akdas was believed to have fled to Iraq and was reportedly involved in the kidnapping of several Turkish workers there in recent months.

Turkish prosecutors have said that bin Laden suggested targets for an attack in Turkey and that his al-Qaida network later provided US$150,000 to the Turkish Islamic militants.

Akdas and Ersoz allegedly met on several occasions with al-Masri, who is believed to have arranged for Akdas to meet bin Laden in 2001 in Afghanistan, according to prosecutors.

Al-Masri was reported to have been killed in a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan in late 2001.

The court began hearing the case in late May, but it adjourned in July for the summer before testimony from top suspects could be heard. It is scheduled to hold hearings throughout the week.

Also Monday, a terrorism trial opened in Brussels for 10 men, some of whom are accused of plotting a bomb attack and others suspected of having links with al-Qaida operatives across Europe.

A key suspect, Tarek Maaroufi, who has already been convicted in two other cases, was among 18 militants sentenced earlier this year for his part in a European terrorism ring that recruited fighters for al-Qaida and Afghanistan’s former Taliban rulers.

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