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Attacks on Istanbul synagogues kill 24 (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Yossi Melman, Yoav Stern and Amiram Barkat 11/16/03)Source: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/361036.html HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
At least 24 people were killed and 300 wounded yesterday morning when two Istanbul synagogues were bombed in a coordinated attack.

Most of the victims were Turkish bystanders, while only six of those killed were Jews. However, three members of the Jewish community are still missing.

A small Turkish organization, the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders Front (known by its Turkish acronym IBDA-C), took responsibility for the blast, saying it was intended "to stop the oppression of Muslims." But Turkish police and government officials believe that Al-Qaida was involved in the attack, deeming it too sophisticated for the local group to have carried out unaided. Israel´s intelligence agencies concur with this assessment.

The attack took place at about 9:30 A.M., when truck bombs exploded simultaneously outside the Neve Shalom and Beth Israel synagogues. It is not yet known whether they were detonated by suicide bombers or from a distance.

The first bomb went off outside Neve Shalom, Istanbul´s largest synagogue, killing seven people, including two worshipers and a policeman who was guarding the site. More than 350 people were inside celebrating a bar mitzvah at the time, but most only suffered shock or light injuries from flying glass. The brunt of the blast was suffered by security personnel, passersby and neighbors.

"The truck exploded right at the entrance to the synagogue," one neighbor said. "That hour is when commerce begins in the area, which contains many shall shops. All the shops round about were completely destroyed, and people who were there were killed or seriously injured. Even people 30 meters away were hurt."

The attack pierced a crater as deep as a person into the pavement outside Neve Shalom, and nearby streets were covered with charred debris and shattered cars. A mosque a few doors away from the synagogue had its windows blown out.

"Muslim, Christian, Jewish - people are people. Today it´s them, tomorrow it could be me," said Ismail Yilmaz, a shopkeeper searching for a missing employee, Rami Kucuk.

A few minutes later, the second bomb exploded at Beth Israel, about five kilometers away. This blast, which occurred by the synagogue´s back entrance, killed 17 people, including five Jewish worshipers.

"One of the worshipers and her granddaughter, who were coming in to pray at the time, were killed on the spot, along with a Turkish guard," related Morris Levy, one of the other worshipers.

Part of the building, which also contains apartments, collapsed, and many people were trapped inside. In addition, several gas canisters in the building apparently exploded, resulting in several people being injured by gas inhalation.

In total, some 350 people were in Beth Israel at the time, celebrating the opening of a newly renovated Jewish school attached to the synagogue. However, that was fewer people than usual, since some regulars were attending the bar mitzvah in Neve Shalom instead.

Moshe Kanafi, the Israeli vice consul in Istanbul, said that both synagogues are guarded 24 hours a day, with extra security when services are in progress. But while the guards check passersby, he said, they cannot check the passing vehicles - especially in the crowded, one-way street opposite Neve Shalom, which is full of shops.

The worshipers killed in the Beth Israel attack were Beto Avraham Varol, 45; Yoel Cohen Ulcer, 19, who was employed by the Jewish community as a guard; Yona Romano, 55 (an Italian citizen); and Anna Rubinstein, 85, and her granddaughter Anet Rubinstein, 8. The two worshipers killed in the Neve Shalom attack were Berta Ozdogan, 35, and her husband Ahmet (who is not Jewish). No date has yet been set for the funerals, but most will apparently be held on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom intends to pay a solidarity visit to Istanbul today. According to Israeli consul Amira Arnon, no Israelis were wounded in the blast. (© Copyright 2003 Haaretz. 11/16/03)

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