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Istanbul Synagogues Targeted by Car Bombs
Kent Klein and Amberin Zaman
VOA, Washington / Istanbul
15 Nov 2003, 15:29 UTC

Car bombs have exploded outside two synagogues in Turkey's largest city, Istanbul. VOA News' Kent Klein talked to Amberin Zaman in Istanbul, about the apparent suicide bombings and she says there are conflicting reports about the number of dead.

AMBERIN ZAMAN: The latest we heard from Turkish police is we have 24 people killed in this incident. But the government is saying - the interior minister is saying - only 16 so far, and 150 wounded.

You know that there were two separate attacks. One in an old Jewish neighborhood [Neve Shalom], where there is a very old synagogue that had been attacked back in 1986 by Abu Nidal. And they had 22 people killed in that attack. And then a separate attack in an area called Sisli, which is a commercial district. And there we believe that there were more people killed than there were here [at the synagogue in Neve Shalom] around nine in that attack. And, about four here [at the Neve Shalom synagogue] in this Jewish neighborhood.

KLEIN: Do authorities have an idea as to who might have done this? ZAMAN: We did hear the authorities say that al-Qaida may have been involved in this attack. Details still remain very sketchy. At one point, we had an obscure Islamist group -- a local group here in Turkey claiming responsibility. But then [they were] saying that no, that phone call was a hoax. That they had not been involved. So, that is really all we know for now. But what we also know is that the bombs were placed in two separate cars. But they were not suicide bomb attacks. In other words, the drivers were not in those cars.

KLEIN: What can you tell us about the significance of the target sites of the synagogue and the area around it?

ZAMAN: Well, obviously the fact that Jewish sites were targeted is extremely significant. Turkey, as you know, has very close relations with Israel. It has a military cooperation agreement with that country that was signed in 1997. And, Turkey came under a lot of criticism from Arab countries over that agreement with these countries accusing Turkey of ganging up on them with Israel. And, so we also know that Turkey has very good relations with the United States, obviously, and has offered to send troops to Iraq . That, too, made it the focus of criticism. And, as you know, al-Qaida in particular, said that it would target any country that aided America in its occupation of Iraq.

KLEIN: Is it true what we are hearing that these blasts took place as people were saying prayers inside these synagogues?

ZAMAN: The blasts took place - indeed it's Saturday today as you know, a day of worship for the Jewish community - and these blasts took place as they were in the synagogue saying their prayers. In fact, in one of the synagogues, the one in Sisli the commercial district, was being re-opened for services for the first time in many, many years. So obviously, these attacks were very carefully planned and coordinated, which again suggests that an international terrorist group may well indeed have been involved in the attacks.