Turkish synagogue bombs claim 20 lives

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The Independent Online

Turkey was struggling to assign blame for the twin car bombings of synagogues in its largest city during Sabbath prayers yesterday, which killed at least 20 people and wounded more than 250.

A militant Turkish Islamist group, IBDA-C or the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders' Front, claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the Turkish authorities said it was too small and unsophisticated to have carried them out, and pointed the finger at al-Qa'ida. Recent intelligence had indicated that Osama bin Laden's network could be planning attacks in Turkey, they said, possibly because it had offered to send troops to Iraq.

The Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, said there were "international connections" to the near-simultaneous bombings, one of which hit the city's largest synagogue, Neve Shalom, as hundreds gathered to celebrate a bar mitzvah. "It is obvious that this terrorist attack has some international connections," Mr Gul said. The other blast hit the Beth Israel synagogue in the district of Sisli, three miles away, collapsing its roof and littering the street with debris.

One report said footage from security cameras showed a red Fiat exploding in front of Neve Shalom, which in Hebrew means "oasis of peace", and the driver who parked the car walking away. But Turkey's Interior Minister, Abdulkadir Aksuhe, said the attackers could have been suicide bombers or might have detonated devices in the vehicles by remote control. "In both cases, vans were driven by the attackers towards their targets. We believe they contained the same kind of explosives, they are the same kind of terror attacks," he said.

Enver Eker, who saw the Neve Shalom bombing, said: "There was huge panic, glass exploding and metal pieces all over the place." Sabri Yalim, head of Istanbul's fire department, said: "The houses and cars are completely destroyed, as if a huge earthquake hit the area." Turkey's Chief Rabbi, Isak Haleva, had a slight hand injury, but his son Yosef suffered serious facial wounds and underwent eye surgery, another son, Mordehay Haleva, told the semi-official Anatolia News Agency. "To do something like this when people are praying - this is truly beyond the pale of human conduct. Even animals don't commit evil like this," said the Chief Rabbi.

Around Beth Israel, twisted metal, shattered windows and bricks filled the streets. "I threw myself on the floor and it got all dark," said Rifat Haifi, who was praying in the synagogue. "Later, we got up and carried the wounded out." Another member of the congregation, Roberto Abudara, said: "Suddenly there was a bright light and a terrible explosion. Then there were screams."

Al-Qa'ida is thought to have carried out a vehicle bombing at a historic synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba that killed 21 people, mainly German tourists, in April last year. Security has been tight at Neve Shalom since an attack in 1986 when gunmen killed 22 worshippers and wounded six during a Sabbath service. That attack was blamed on the radical Palestinian militant Abu Nidal.

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