"I wanted to attack Israeli ships without harming Turkish civilians," Louai Sakra, 32, shouted to reporters in Turkish as he was escorted to court by anti-terror police on Thursday.

"I had prepared a tonne of explosives and I have no regrets. I was to carry out the attack last Friday. Allahu Akbar (God Is Great)," he shouted.

Four Israeli ships carrying 3500 tourists were scheduled to dock in the resort of Alanya last Friday, but were rerouted to Cyprus for fear of a terror attack.

On Monday, Israel's counter-terrorism services warned Israelis to avoid a strip of Turkey's southern coast between Alanya and Kemer, in Antalya province, due to "credible intelligence" of a potential attack.

Denying charge

The court ordered Sakra arrested on charges of membership in an illegal organisation, but his lawyer said the Syrian denied belonging to the al-Qaida network and said he was acting on his own.

"He (Sakra) said he was angry over the US occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem," said defence attorney Osman Karahan.  

"He (Sakra) said he was angry over the US occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem"

Osman Karahan,
Defence attorney 

The hearing was held under media blackout. Another member of Sakra's defence team, who requested anonymity, told reporters his client was the scion of an influential Syrian family and had come to Turkey as a student.

Media reports said Sakra planned to use an inflatable boat packed with explosives to hit an Israeli cruise ship in Antalya, home to some of Turkey's most popular resorts that attract millions of foreign tourists each year.

False papers

Sakra was detained in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir late on Saturday in possession of forged Turkish identity documents.

Another Syrian, also suspected of belonging to al-Qaida and identified as Hamed Obysi in court documents, was jailed on Wednesday.

Media reports alleged that he was a go-between for Osama bin Laden's network and its members in Turkey.

In an official statement on the case, police confirmed on Thursday that two suspects were caught last week in an operation launched after a suspicious fire at a flat rented in Antalya by Middle Eastern tourists.

Alleged plot

The statement did not name the men and made no mention of a plot to attack Israeli ships.

Sakra, say police, is connected to
the 2003 bombings in Istanbul

Pointing to Sakra, it said the suspect detained at the Diyarbakir airport "is understood to hold a prominent position in a terrorist group linked to al-Qaida" and had undergone plastic surgery, apparently to disguise himself.

It said he is also believed to have been involved in a series of deadly bomb attacks in Istanbul in November 2003, which were blamed on al-Qaida.

He was present at the flat in Antalya at the time of the fire last Thursday, which raised suspicions because of an intense smell of chemicals, police said.

2003 attacks

The documents seized at the flat suggested a link with the 2003 Istanbul attacks, in which bombers detonated explosive-laden trucks five days apart outside two synagogues, the British consulate and the British-based HSBC bank, killing 63 people and wounding hundreds.

The second suspect was detained Saturday while preparing to leave Turkey from a post on the Syrian border, police said.

Media reports described Sakra as a senior al-Qaida member, responsible for a region that includes Turkey. The NTV news channel said police seized 875 kg of plastic and chemical explosives in the flat in Antalya.

Some media reports said the operation was conducted in cooperation with Israeli and US intelligence services.