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Mossad Warned of Possible Attack in Turkey


Turkish media report that the Mossad sent warnings to Turkish intelligence officials that terror attacks were planned against synagogues. The first warning in April specifically pointed to a planned al-Qaeda attack on the N'vei Shalom Synagogue or an Israeli diplomatic facility. The second, a more general warning, was delivered two months ago. In a related development, ZAKA officials said that Torah scrolls, prayer books, and other religious articles would be buried by volunteers who arrived in Turkey to assist following Saturday's double car bombing attacks. The holy articles were destroyed as a result of the powerful terrorist bombs that were detonated against two Istanbul synagogues on the Sabbath morning.

Turkey, Israel Investigate Istanbul Synagogue Bombings

By Amberin Zaman (VOA-Istanbul), Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem) & Ha'aretz

Turkish and Israeli experts are investigating the bombings of two Istanbul synagogues amid mounting evidence that international terrorist groups such as al-Qaida may have organized the attacks. Meanwhile, Turkish officials said 23 people were killed by the blasts that wounded more than 308 people.

Most of the victims of the Saturday morning attacks were passersby. Six of those killed were reported to be Jews. A Jewish community spokeswoman told VOA that their funeral services would likely take place Tuesday.

A senior police official quoted by the semi-official Anatolian news agency said nearly 900 pounds of explosives had been packed into two pick-up trucks, which exploded within minutes of each other outside the synagogues as Jewish worshippers congregated. Interior ministry officials said there was evidence that the attacks may have been the work of suicide bombers.

Israel's foreign minister, Silvan Shalom flew to Istanbul to console the country's small Jewish community. He called the twin bombings "cowardly attacks carried out by extremists, who do not want to see countries that are sharing values of democracy, freedom and rule of law." Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul said the attacks not only targeted Jews, but Muslim Turks as well.

Four Turks arrested Saturday in connection with the blasts were released after being cleared of involvement. Turkish security officials have greeted claims by an obscure Turkish Islamist group known as the Great Islamic Eastern Raiders Front, that it had carried out the bombings with skepticism. Shalom was quoted by Israeli radio saying that information he had received from the Turkish government showed that "the direction" was "more to al-Qaida."

Saturday's blasts were the latest in a series of strikes against Jewish targets, including suicide attacks in the Moroccan city of Casablanca in May that killed 45 and an attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya a year ago that left 18 dead.

Turkey and Israel have historically enjoyed close relations capped by a military training and cooperation agreement signed by the two countries in 1996. The accord provoked anger among Turkey's Arab neighbors and Iran, which accuse Ankara of forming a joint front against them with the Jewish state. But such reaction has been more than offset by unrelenting Israeli support for Turkey's bid to become a full member of the European Union and backing from the influential Jewish lobby in Washington.

Fears that the relationship would suffer under Turkey's pro-Islamic government, which swept to power a year ago have proved empty. The Turkish energy minister, Hilmi Guler, is scheduled to travel to Israel next month to sign a long delayed agreement to sell the Jewish state up to 50 million cubic meters of water annually from Turkey's Manavgat river.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the bombing shows that "terrorism knows no bounds." He also said the bomb attacks demonstrated that terrorism does not discriminate by religion or race. The purpose of such acts is to "sow fear and terror through the slaying of innocent people."

Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Danny Shek said the attacks have demonstrated the need for nations to forge a united front against terrorism. "One can hardly imagine a more tragic, violent and cruel attack than to simultaneously go after two places of worship on the Sabbath in order to kill a maximum amount of people who are busy praying and worshipping," he said. "I think that internationally the message that comes across this event is that no country is immune to terrorism and no state can afford not to participate in the global fight against terror."

One of the Jewish leaders in Istanbul, Avi Al-Kash, told Israel Radio that Jews had no intention of fleeing Turkey because of terrorism. "We will continue to pray in our synagogues again. The funerals will take place in the same place in the same synagogue. We should not let terror overrule our good relations, our good acquaintances here. As the Jewish minority here, having every right, every freedom, I do not think those relationships will be damaged."

Glass shards and metal scraps lay strewn in the streets outside the two synagogues that were targeted by separate explosions, as heavy smoke billowed from the buildings hit by the blasts. Sabri Yalim, the head of Istanbul's fire department, told NTV that the scene outside the Neve Shalom looked like a war zone. "There is a huge pit on the ground. The houses and cars are completely destroyed, as if a huge earthquake hit the area."

"There was huge panic, glasses exploding and metal pieces all over the place. There were lots of people injured," said Enver Eker, one eyewitness. "We saw someone put a head in a cardboard box."

The chief rabbi of the Istanbul Jewish community, Isaac Haliva, who was praying with his family in the Neve Shalom synagogue at the time of the blast, said there were no words to explain the magnitude of the disaster.

"We had almost finished reading from the Torah, when suddenly behind me there was a huge explosion," Haliva told Israel Radio. "I'm talking on the phone on this holy Sabbath day, but I hope the Lord sends complete recovery to those injured, and I ask the people of Israel to pray for them." Haliva's son suffered an injury to his eye as a result of the bomb attack.

Isaac Bivas, who was in the Beth Israel synagogue in Istanbul's Sisli neighborhood when the blast went off, said he was "inside with all the Jews, when suddenly the light bulbs shattered, people were hurt and there was some panic. Everyone wanted to get out of the door furthest from the blast. We tried to open the synagogue door, there was a lot of smoke. Those outside in the street died, and whoever was in the synagogue was lightly injured."

Medical teams carried away several people, some of them with bloodied or charred faces. Twisted wreckage of a car and a huge crater remained in front of the Neve Shalom synagogue. Windows at a mosque several doors down from Neve Shalom were blown out.

Istanbul, has a long history of Jewish presence, notably bolstered after Spain expelled Jews in 1492. "If they are trying to scare the Jewish community here, they will fail. We have been here for 500 years and we will stay. Terror will not win," Roberto Abudara, who had been in the Sisli synagogue when the attackers struck, told Reuters.

Neve Shalom is the most important spiritual center for Istanbul's 20,000 Jews. In 1986, gunmen, believed to be Palestinians, attacked the synagogue, killing 22 worshippers and wounding six during a Sabbath service. In 1992, the Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group Hizbullah carried out a bomb attack against the same synagogue but no one was injured. Another 5,000 Jews live elsewhere in predominantly Muslim Turkey.

Individuals examining the wreckage outside a synagogue in Istanbul, Turkey on Saturday after a bomb exploded nearby. (Reuters)

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