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Savagery in Istanbul
Who bombed the synagogues in Istanbul? Despite initial claims of responsibility from an obscure Turkish Islamic fundamentalist group known as the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders’ Front, or IBDA-C, Turkish security sources are pointing the finger at an outside organization such as Al Qaeda. The IBDA-C is a tiny group whose leaders are mostly in jail—in its heyday in the early 1990s it was known for firebombing liquor shops and for a botched assassination of a prominent Jewish businessman. It’s unlikely, Turkish security sources tell NEWSWEEK, that the group has the sophistication to mount a coordinated attack like last Saturday’s, which killed 24 and injured more than 300, including six Jews killed and 60 wounded.
There were warnings of a possible Qaeda strike on Jewish targets in Istanbul as early as a fortnight before the attacks. Several threats were phoned in to members of the Jewish community, while recent public statements by Al Qaeda warned of attacks against U.S., Israeli and Jewish installations, specifically naming Turkey as one of the targets. Turkish authorities increased the already tight security around Istanbul’s synagogues. The Jewish community canceled most high-profile gatherings like weddings and bar mitzvahs.
Still, the precautions didn’t stop the attackers, who used car bombs for the first time in the long history of terrorism in Turkey—an important clue that the attack could have been the work of an outside group. Another clue is that there’s never been much homegrown anti-Semitism in Turkey, which has enjoyed generally excellent relations with its Jewish community ever since the Ottomans invited Jews to Istanbul after they were expelled from Spain in 1492. Turkey is one of the very few Muslim countries with a significant Jewish minority who are prominent in public life.
Ordinary Turks are horrified. Residents of Galata, the historic and bohemian neighborhood that was the scene of one of the bombings, organized a spontaneous demonstration to show solidarity with their Jewish neighbors. “We want to show that we’re not with those people who carried out this attack,” says Gulen Guler, a teacher who lives around the corner from the Neve Shalom Synagogue.
The blasts may damage Turkey’s vital tourism industry, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised George W. Bush that they won’t shake Turkey’s longstanding friendships with America and Israel. If anything, the bombings confirm that fundamentalists regard secular, pro-Western Turkey as a legitimate bull’s-eye. In a perverse way, that confirms what Republican Turkey has always wanted—to stand shoulder to shoulder with the West against the forces of radical, obscurantist Islam.
—Owen Matthews and Sami Kohen