Suicide Bombers Likely in Turkey Attacks (AP) By FRANCES D´EMILIO ISTANBUL, Turkey 11/16/03 3:00 PM)
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ISTANBUL, Turkey - Evidence is pointing to an international hand -
perhaps al-Qaida´s - behind the deadly bombings of two Turkish
synagogues, officials said Sunday. The sophisticated attacks used
trucks stuffed with nearly identical explosives detonated minutes
apart, likely by suicide bombers.
Israeli intelligence and explosives experts joined Turkish officials
Sunday in the probe of the twin bombings, which killed 23 people and
wounded more than 300 - including Jews at the synagogues, but mostly
Muslims who were passing by.
Forensic workers pieced together body parts and searched for clues
amid the wreckage from blasts that Israeli experts were stronger than
most bombings seen in Israel. Officials found two bodies fitted with
wire, and one of them matched partial remains found in one of the
attack cars, media reported - suggesting that the explosions were set
off by suicide bombers, not by remote control or timers.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Interior Minister
Abdulkadir Aksu said the chance that the attacks were suicide
bombings "is more than 95 percent."
"I am not saying 100 percent because the investigation is still
underway, but I was convinced that these attacks were suicide
bombings after I saw the scenes of the attacks and was briefed by
authorities," the minister said.
"It is very likely that there is an international connection. We are
not ruling out any possibility, including al-Qaida involvement," Aksu
said, adding that the identities or nationalities of the bombers were
He said the attacks involved a pair of Isuzu pickup trucks, each
packed with explosives, and that they appeared to be carbon copies of
Turkish news reports said the license plates were fake and that false
documents were used to purchase one of the pickups last month.
The blasts, two minutes and 3 miles apart, rocked two synagogues
holding Sabbath morning services. A bar-mitzvah, or coming-of-age
ceremony for a young male, was under way at one.
"The vehicles were either detonated while they paused in front of the
synagogues or as they were proceeding slowly at those points," Aksu
said, adding that experts believed that because of the massive weight
of the explosives in the pickups, the drivers themselves had
detonated the blasts.
Each pickup was packed with some 880 pounds of explosives, a mix of
ammonium sulfate, nitrate and compressed fuel, a senior police
official said, according to Turkey´s semiofficial Anatolia news
agency. The explosives had been put into containers wrapped in sacks
and hidden among containers of detergent.
The blasts near one of the synagogues ripped off balconies and blew
out windows several stories up. The iron entrance door to the Neve
Shalom temple, Istanbul´s largest synagogue and symbolic center to
the city´s 25,000-member Jewish community, was ripped off.
A neighborhood away, in Beth Israel synagogue - where the six Jews
who died in the bombings were killed - white prayer shawls were
stained with blood. Prayer books were scattered on the floor. On a
stained-glass panel of a door, the six-pointed Star of David remained
"I thought it was doomsday," said Recep Ulubay, a Muslim whose deli
shop near Beth Israel synagogue caters to the worshippers. "No
religion can accept this. We are all children of the same God."
Among the badly wounded were a policeman who had been guarding one of
the synagogues and his 12-year-old son, who had wanted to show off
new clothes for the start in a few days of the Muslim holiday Eid-al-
Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.
Inspecting the horror inside the houses of worship was Israeli
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who flew to Istanbul to show
solidarity with the small Jewish community in this predominantly
Muslim nation, which has long had a secular regime - though its
government is currently Islamic-rooted - and is an ally of Israel.
The bombings "were cowardly attacks carried out by extremists who
don´t want to see countries that share values of democracy, freedom
and rule of law," said Shalom, who laid wreaths of chrysanthemums in
Istanbul Jews asked the Israeli rescue service ZAKA to come to Turkey
to help retrieve the remains.
Said Zelig Feiner, a ZAKA spokesman: "We´ve seen many suicide attacks
in Israel, but the amount of explosives and damage here is something
we´ve never seen before."
Explosives and forensics experts flown in from Israel worked with
Mossad intelligence agents on the probe.
Anatolia reported that four people had been questioned about the
attacks but that authorities released all of them after concluding
they weren´t linked to the bombings.
Interior Minister Aksu said authorities doubted that a Turkish
radical Islamic group that claimed the attacks had the capacity or
international ties to launch such a strike.
Shalom, in an interview with Israel´s Army Radio from Istanbul, was
cautious about assigning blame.
"From what is being said here, the direction is more to al-Qaida
according to the Turkish government, but this hasn´t been finalized.
There are things that still need to be investigated," Shalom said.
The Turkish daily Radikal reported that Mossad warned Turkish
intelligence units twice about attack plans, once in April last year
and again in September. But an Interior Ministry official, speaking
on condition of anonymity, denied Mossad had given warnings.
In 1986, Palestinian gunmen killed 22 worshippers at Neve Shalom.
Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States and was the first Muslim
nation to recognize Israel, in 1948.
Al-Qaida is thought to have carried out an April 2002 vehicle bombing
at a historic synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba that
killed 21 people, mostly foreign tourists.
(© 2003 The Associated Press 11/16/03)
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