The annual Anzac Day dawn service at Gallipoli has attracted hundreds of Australians and New Zealanders, despite Turkish authorities arresting a Syrian man over a planned suspected terrorist attack on the site just hours earlier.
While Prime Minister Scott Morrison downplayed the incident, Turkish authorities said the 25-year-old man was a suspected member of Islamic State and was believed to be planning an attack at the Anzac Cove ceremony.
“This is more of a routine thing that we’ve seen happen with Turkish authorities and we could not say at all that there is any link between that arrest and any planned event at Gallipoli,” Mr Morrison said at a press conference in Townsville on Thursday morning.
New Zealand’s parliamentary speaker Trevor Mallard addressed the Gallipoli service, and said Anzac Cove continued to have a special place “in the hearts of all of us”.
“And it informs our rejection of extremism and of terrorism, whether it occurs in Turkey, in Australia, in New Zealand or in Sri Lanka,” he said.
Turkish police say the threat was serious but gave no details of the nature of the proposed attack.
The Turkish media has since named the man as Syrian national Abdulkarim Hilef.
The local Demiroren news agency said the man was believed to have been preparing an attack by bombing or driving into crowds in retaliation for the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand in March.
Turkish security sources told the ABC that the planned attack on Gallipoli was in retaliation for the Christchurch mosque attacks.
Turkish nationals were earlier banned from attending the dawn service, which Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell is due to attend amid heightened security.
Despite the threat, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs maintained the Gallipoli dawn service would go ahead as planned from 12:30pm (Australian time).
“The Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the New Zealand Defence Force (joint lead agencies) are aware of Turkish media reports that the Turkish National Police has arrested an individual who is alleged to be involved in activities designed to disrupt Anzac services at Gallipoli,” the department told News Corp.
“This is a matter for the Turkish Authorities,” it said.
“Australian and New Zealand agencies are liaising with the responsible Turkish authorities in relation to this media reporting.”
Hundreds of Australians and New Zealanders travel to Gallipoli each year for memorial services on April 25 commemorating the failed 1915 military campaign by ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers and allied forces to drive Ottoman troops from the Dardanelles region.
Turkish media (Aydınlık) say person in custody over alleged plan to attack Anzac service in Gallipoli “was caught after some lS members were caught in Osmaniye city – his phone number was found on their phones and he was tracked“ @1NewsNZ – they say this is his photo pic.twitter.com/Jgrm3Fq1jd
— Joy Reid (@JoyReidTVNZ) April 24, 2019
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester said normal security arrangements were in place to move people on and off the Gallipoli peninsula and Australia was maintaining its travel advice urging people to exercise a high level of caution in Turkey.
“We take the security provisions obviously very seriously and we work closely with the local Turkish authorities,” Mr Chester said.
Brendon Nelson, former minister of defence and Director of The Australian War. Memorial, on Thursday morning said the Turkish authorities “went to extraordinary lengths to see that Gallipoli Peninsula was secure for the Anzac Day services being held there.”
“Unfortunately we live in a world where people … are fundamentalists intent on disrupting what we do,” Mr Nelson said after the dawn service ceremonies in Canberra.
“The fundamental thing we can do is to go about living our lives,” he said.
The alleged Islamic State member was detained on Wednesday morning local time, and his arrest is connected to an earlier sweep of IS suspects in Turkey over the past 10 days.
Four Syrian suspects were arrested on April 16, including an alleged IS emir, or team leader. One other suspect was arrested on April 18.
Turkey has blamed Islamic State for several bombings in the country during 2015 and 2016, which killed some 200 people.
Although the militant group has not been active in Turkey of late, authorities still carry out routine operations against suspected Islamic State members.
This year’s Anzac service comes a month after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan faced criticism in Australia and New Zealand for comments he made after a lone gunman killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15.
Mr Erdogan played a video from the shootings at local election rallies and said the gunman had targeted Turkey by saying in a manifesto posted online that Turks should be removed from the European half of Istanbul.
He also threatened to send back in coffins anyone who tried to take the battle to Istanbul.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, has been charged with 50 counts of murder for New Zealand’s worst peacetime mass shooting.
Fifty other people were injured in the attacks, which occurred during Friday prayers.