ANKARA, Turkey – The recent Dutch raid against a suspected military training camp used by Turkish Kurdish rebels (search) is the largest crackdown against the group in Europe, which has become a base for autonomy-seeking militants to collect money, recruit and train, authorities say.
Turkey has long demanded that European Union (search) nations move against the rebel group, whose sympathizers run a satellite TV station in Denmark and collect funds — hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, say Turkish officials — in many major European cities where Kurds live.
The Kurdish rebel's main military bases are in the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq and Turkey is also urging the United States to close those outposts by force if necessary.
Both the EU and the United States consider the PKK — or Kurdistan Workers Party — to be a terrorist organization. Yet little action has been taken against the group in EU countries until lately. Meantime, fighting between Turkish troops and autonomy-seeking Kurds has killed some 37,000 people since rebels took up arms in 1984 — most in the 1990s before the ongoing Iraq war.
The crackdown in the Netherlands came last week when Dutch security forces arrested suspected Kurdish rebels in a series of raids in which police confiscated night vision goggles, packages of clothing intended to be sent abroad and fake passports and identity cards.
The raids were conducted across the country, netting arrests in The Hague, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, and the town of Capelle aan den Ijssel. Most of the arrests came in a sweep of an alleged paramilitary training camp near Boxtel.
The Kurdish arrests coincided with Dutch plans to adopt new laws to give security forces broader arrest powers to combat the growing threat from Islamic radicals. Although falling short of some U.S. measures adopted in the Patriot Act after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Dutch legislation would give authorities some of the most intrusive powers in Europe.
The proposals follow the Nov. 2 slaying of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, whose latest movie denounced the treatment of women in Muslim countries. An alleged Islamic extremist has been arrested in the slaying, which has roiled European nations with large Muslim populations.
The Dutch Justice Ministry said Wednesday that it plans to use anti-terrorism laws to prosecute at least 22 of the 38 arrested Kurds, but has no plans to extradite them to Turkey.
Nihat Ali Ozcan, a terrorism expert and author of a book on the rebel group, said the arrests were "a very dramatic development in fighting terrorism, especially in such a liberal country as the Netherlands."
"This is the largest crackdown in Europe on such a training activity and it is the first time that such an activity is being linked to terrorism," he said.
The United States has long urged European governments to crack down on Islamic militant groups — including al-Qaida and Hamas — who are believed to be running businesses across Europe and funding terror operations, but efforts have clashed with Europe's liberal laws.
"The Kurdish terrorists are exploiting freedoms enjoyed in Europe and we're sad that the European governments are turning a blind eye to this," said Mehmet Dulger, chairman of the Turkish parliament's foreign relations committee.
"The terrorists are achieving this by intimidating and threatening those governments, saying 'We would create havoc here if you mess up with us."'
But Ali Yigit, a spokesman for the Confederation of European Kurdish Associations, said Kurds in Europe are simply promoting Kurdish culture and their meetings are within the law.
"We are shocked by the actions of the Netherlands," he said by telephone from Brussels. "There are meetings everywhere in Europe. They are purely cultural meetings."
Asked whether Kurds in Europe were supporting the Kurdish rebel fight by sending money and providing fighters as claimed by Turkey, Yigit said: "Kurds in Europe are giving every kind of voluntary support to their struggle."
Turkish claims that the PKK has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars a year could not be independently verified. The group recently renamed itself KONGRA-GEL.
Turkey, in its zeal to shut down Kurdish rebel operations, has provided European intelligence organizations with information on the group that is so detailed that "we've even communicated the door numbers of terrorists living in European countries," said one Turkish intelligence officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Turkish officials have long accused European countries of backing Kurdish rebels and the rebel cause is popular among some European leftists.
The main Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Politika, which is illegal in Turkey, is based in Germany and often carries statements from imprisoned rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan.
Turkish laws, some of which have recently been amended, have made it illegal to call for supporting the rebels or their aims.
Many Kurds in Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeast also watch Denmark-based Roj television, which broadcasts in Kurdish and carries statements and interviews from Kurdish rebel commanders.
Speaking Kurdish was illegal in Turkey until 1991 and Turkish state television was first allowed earlier this year to carry limited broadcasts in Kurdish.