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Investigators are hunting for clues amid the rubble
Additional Reporting By Sa'ad Abdul Majid, IOL Correspondent
Foreign powers might be behind the deadly blasts that ripped through two synagogues in Istanbul on Saturday, November 15, killing at least 23 people and injuring 300 others, Turkish intelligence experts and journalists said on Sunday, November 16, ruling out that they were the work of underground organizations in Turkey.
Maher Kenaq, a former director at the Turkish intelligence service, told the Turkish daily Milliyet Gazette that the attacks were planned by foreign intelligence services to pressure the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP).
Aouni Ozgurul, a journalist at the daily Yeni Safak, said the two blasts served as ‘a strong message’ to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
However, Faek Blout, a journalist at the NTV news channel ruled out that the explosions were the work of one of the underground organizations, asserting that the magnitude of the attacks suggested that they were backed by a major power.
The home-grown group the "Islamic Front of Knights of the Great Orient" had claimed the blasts in a telephone call with Anatolia news agency on Saturday, alleging that they came in response to what they called the ‘persecution of Muslims’.
One blast occurred outside the Neve Shalom synagogue in the historic Beyoglu district in the heart of Istanbul. Another went off close to the Beth Israel synagogue in the nearby neighborhood of Sisli.
Shalom and Gul during a joint press conference in Istanbul
But other experts said the blasts bear the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda network.
Dr. Mansour Aq John, professor of international relations, and researcher Aytanoush Altin, a specialist in religious affairs and evangelism, said there is a clear resemblance between them and other attacks worldwide claimed by Osam bin Laden's group.
They further agreed that the blasts served as a message against the U.S. occupation in Iraq and the perceived U.S. bias towards Israel.
Sheikh Mohammad Fatahallah Golen, the spiritual leader of Al-Nour Islamic group in Turkey, strongly denounced the blasts.
"The evil spirits do not want a strong and democratic Turkey," Golen said in a statement published by Zaman newspaper.
Turkey's press on Sunday hit out at the blasts as a "serious development", pointing the fingers at "evil powers outside Turkey".
"Laden's terror has hit us as well," the popular daily Vatan said. "Istanbul's two most prominent synagogues were hit in quick succession just as the twin towers (in New York) and the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania."
"Terror in Istanbul," the daily Cumhuriyet said, adding that the attacks bore resemblance to bombings in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
"This is dastardly…The Muslims' holy month and the Jews' sacred day is soaked in blood," the daily Aksam said.
The head of the Jewish community in Turkey, Yalmiz bin Edret, told NTV that the blasts were designed to impair Turkey's image, adding that they were not targeting Jews in specific.
On Saturday, a spokesman for the Jewish community in Istanbul, Silvio Ovadyo, said that two Jews were killed and 100 injured in the attacks, noting that Turkey's Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva escaped the blasts unhurt.
However, Israeli public radio reported Sunday that six Jews were among the 20 victims, quoting a member of the Turkish Jewish community.
"We have identified six Jews among the people killed in these attacks, including four security guards employed by the community... Most of those killed were neighboring shop workers," the unidentified Istanbul source said.
"This toll is a tragic pointer for the future of Jewish and Muslim relations in Turkey," Israel's consul general in Turkey, Amira Arnon, said on radio.
Four Israeli police experts have been sent to Turkey to conduct a criminal enquiry along with members of the Zaka volunteer group, which specializes in aiding the victims of catastrophes.
Meanwhile, Turkish investigators hunted for clues to find out who was behind the twin car bomb attacks as Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom joined grieving families of the victims on Sunday.
Police set up barricades to block off the bombed-out streets as investigators in bright yellow helmets combed through the carpet of broken glass and debris in the hunt for clues to find out who was behind the attacks, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The Hurriyet newspaper reported that three people had been arrested over the carnage, but there was no immediate confirmation.
Israeli consul Amira Arnon said it is very early to have any conclusions, but the attack could have been committed by "a major organization, maybe with a state behind it".
Security officials told Anatolia news agency that a security camera at one of the synagogues showed a person parking a car outside the building and leaving and then the vehicle exploded.
Shalom flew in to Istanbul 24 hours after the car bombs, walking through scenes of devastation to lay wreathes in memory of the dead.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul also visited the bomb sites as relatives of the dead laid flowers for their loved ones.
"We have Jewish citizens in Turkey, there is no division between the two communities," said Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, adding: "An attack against them is an attack against Turkey."
The bombings were the latest in a series of strikes against Jewish targets in recent months, including suicide attacks in the Moroccan city of Casablanca in May 2003 that killed 45 and an attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya a year ago that left 18 dead.
Neve Shalom, the Istanbul Jewish community's largest synagogue, was attacked in 1986 and 22 people were gunned down.
Turkey has been Israel's chief regional ally since 1996 when the two nations hammered out a military cooperation accord.
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