Sun, Nov 16, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Twin blasts kill at least 20 at Istanbul synagogues

TERROR STRIKE An Islamic militant group claimed responsibility for the car bombs, while the Turkish foreign minister said the attack had international connections

AP , ISTANBUL, TURKEY

A victim is helped after a bomb exploded at a synagogue as two blasts struck Istanbul yesterday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Car bombs exploded outside two synagogues in Istanbul at almost the same time yesterday, killing at least 20 people and injuring about 257, top Turkish ministers said.

A militant Turkish Islamic group claimed responsibility for the blasts, the semiofficial Anatolia news agency reported. Private CNN-Turk television said Turkish police were investigating whether al-Qaeda had any links to the attack.

"This bomb is aimed at stability and peace in the Turkish Republic," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters during a visit to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot republic. "I condemn this attack against humanity."

Foreign Minister Abdulah Gul said: "It is obvious that this terrorist attack has some international connections."

At least 20 were dead and 257 were wounded, Health Minister Recep Akdag said. Earlier, officials had said 23 were killed, but there wasn't an immediate explanation for the discrepancy.

Aksu said police were investigating whether the attacks were suicide bombings, or whether the explosions were set off remotely by timers. Parking was not allowed in front of the synagogues; Aksu said it was possible two cars or pickup trucks could have been driving slowly past the synagogues when they exploded.

Israel and the EU expressed horror.

"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 their Gods," said Daniel Shek, a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom contacted his Turkish counterpart to express his condolences and to offer Israeli assistance in treating the wounded, Israel Radio reported.

The explosions occurred during morning Sabbath prayers, around 9:30am.

The Neve Shalom synagogue, the city's largest, was severely damaged. The other blast damaged and collapsed the roof of the Beth Israel synagogue in the affluent district of Sisli, 5km away, where many of the city's Jews, Armenians and Greeks live.

A bar mitzvah, the Jewish rite of passage into adulthood for boys, was taking place at Neve Shalom at the time of the attack, said nearby shopkeeper Edi Baruh, who said one of his relatives was there.

Twisted metal, shattered windows and bricks from partly collapsed synagogues and nearby buildings filled the streets, while the scent of smoke and burned bodies filled the air.

"I threw myself on the floor and it got all dark," said Rifat Haifi, who had been praying at Beth Israel when it was attacked. "Later, we got up and carried the wounded out."

Residents in the neighborhood near Beth Israel woke up after hearing the blast and ran into the streets in panic.

"We ran outside with our pajamas," said Suna Dincer. "I still could not overcome the shock."

Medical teams carried away several people, some were dismembered and most had bloodied or charred faces.

At Neve Shalom, twisted wreckage of a car and a huge crater remained in front and windows at a mosque several doors down were smashed out.

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