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Synagogue bombings tilt turkey toward west

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Synagogue Bombings Could Tilt Turkey More Toward the West
Julie Stahl
Jerusalem Bureau Chief

Jerusalem ( - The weekend bombings of two synagogues in Turkey are a sign that Islamic militants are angry with Turkey's alignment with the West, but the attacks could have the effect of pushing Turkey closer to the West, an Israeli expert said on Monday.

Turkish and Israeli officials are investigating an al Qaeda claim of responsibility sent to two Arabic newspapers for the Saturday morning's car bombings of two synagogues in Istanbul. The double attack killed 23 people and injured more than 300.

A truck packed with more than 400 kilograms (880 pounds) of explosives was detonated shortly after 9:00 a.m. outside Istanbul's largest synagogue, Neve Shalom, which was full of Sabbath worshippers celebrating a Bar Mitzvah.

Just moments later, three miles away, a second truck laden with 400 kilos of explosives blew up outside the city's second largest synagogue, Beth Israel.

(The Neve Shalom synagogue was the target of a terrorist attack in 1986, in which terrorists got into the synagogue and killed more than 20 people.)

On Saturday, most of those killed and many of the wounded were Muslim passersby or workers in nearby shops. Among the dead were six Jews from the two synagogues, including an 85-year-old grandmother and her eight-year-old granddaughter, and a pregnant woman.

Former Israeli Ambassador Dr. Alon Liel, who was Israel's charges d'affairs to Turkey in the 1980s, said that Israeli-Turkish relations have been "excellent" during the last five or six years and he does not expect that to change.

"I don't think the attacks will damage relations [with Israel], they might even strengthen them," Liel said in a telephone interview.

Officially Turkish reaction has been to regard the attack as an attack against Turkey and not against the Jewish community, Liel said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon condemned the attacks and said that they showed that terrorism "knows no boundaries."

"Terrorism does not differentiate between religion or blood, and its purpose is to sow fear and panic by murdering innocent civilians," Sharon said at the start of the cabinet meeting on Sunday.

Islamic fundamentalists have grouped Turkey with the West by selecting it as a place to carry out an attack, Liel said. The attack shows the disappointment of Islamic fundamentalists with the moderate and liberal policies of Turkey, he added.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan comes from a strong Islamic, even fundamentalist background. The Turkish government enjoys wide popular as well as parliamentary support right now.

The primarily Muslim nation has a long history of a being ruled by a secular regime. It has strong ties with Israel, including military ties; it is a U.S. ally; it is seeking to join the European Union; and it is the only Muslim member of NATO.

Turkish analysts were quoted as saying that the attack was intended as a warning to the government over its close ties to the U.S. and Israel.

But the attack, far from harming ties with democratic nations, may have the opposite result.

"What these attacks are doing is pushing Turkey toward the West - even further toward Europe, toward the U.S.," Liel said. The Islamic fundamentalists have placed [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan "even deeper in the Western camp."

According to Liel, the terrorist attack may actually accelerate negotiations for Turkey to join the European Union.

Al Qaeda links

Israel sent two explosives experts and two forensics experts to assist in the investigation in Istanbul.

Experts on Saturday were already saying that the attack was too big and two well coordinated to have been the work of a small local group that immediately claimed responsibility.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who was dispatched to the site of the blast on Sunday, said that the investigation in Turkey was focusing more on the possibility that it was carried out by al Qaeda.

Two Arabic newspapers said they had been sent claims of responsibility by a group that is part of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda, the Brigades of the Martyr Abu Hafz al-Masri. (Abu Hafez Masri, closely tied to bin Laden, was killed two years ago in the U.S. war in Afghanistan.)

According to reports, the London-based, Arabic-language paper al-Quds al-Arabi said it had received a statement claiming responsibility for the near-simultaneous blasts and pledging to carry out more attacks, this time in the U.S. and against its allies.

"There is more to come. By God the Jews of the world will regret that their [men] thought of invading the lands of Muslims," the statement said.

"We tell the criminal [President] Bush and his Arab and non-Arab followers [especially Britain, Italy, Australia, and Japan] that cars of death will not stop at Baghdad, Riyadh, Istanbul, Jerba, Nasiriyah or Jakarta," it added in reference to massive car bomb attacks that have been carried out in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Tunisia and Indonesia.

Erdogan said on Monday that Turkish security and intelligence services were working "to determine the extent of truth of the claims."

The Abu Hafez Masri Brigades also claimed responsibility for the attack on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, an Israeli charter airliner and the Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, a year ago and the attack on the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta earlier this year.

sb100sa100 Senior Israeli sources have been quoted as saying that Turkey had received warnings of potential terror attacks against Jewish targets in the country.

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Bush wants to save muslims { November 20 2003 }
Istanbul turkey mason attack not alqaeda { March 10 2004 }
Masonic lodge terror attack in turkey { March 10 2004 }
Synagogue bombings tilt turkey toward west
Terrorist attacks in turkey imminent
Turkish synagogue bombers named { November 19 2003 }
Turks blame bombings on us and israel { November 24 2003 }

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