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Istanbul Bombers Were Turks, Investigators Say

November 19, 2003|Amberin Zaman and Sebastian Rotella | Special to The Times

ANKARA, Turkey — The two suicide bombers who carried out Saturday's attack on synagogues in Istanbul were Turks who sympathized with Al Qaeda and may have been trained outside the country by the terrorist network, Turkish and Israeli officials said Tuesday.

The investigation suggests that the twin attacks that killed the two bombers and at least 23 others and shook this moderate Muslim nation teamed home-grown extremists with Al Qaeda's international infrastructure, authorities said. But police still must determine whether the suspects had direct links to the terrorist network or were just inspired by the movement's anti-Western and anti-Semitic ideology, said a senior Turkish official who requested anonymity.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told journalists that there was a connection between the bombers and Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden's network trained thousands of recruits from around the world.

At the burial Tuesday in Istanbul of six Jewish victims of the bombings, the speaker of the Israeli parliament said the investigation by Turkish and Israeli security forces pointed to Afghanistan and Iran.

"We found out here in Turkey along with our friends in the Turkish intelligence forces that the two terrorists, actually Turkish civilians, were educated in Afghanistan and trained in Iran," said Reuven Rivlin, the parliament speaker.

There was no further information on the alleged training in Iran. After the U.S. military destroyed Bin Laden's Afghan sanctuary in 2001, a number of Al Qaeda operatives made their way to Iran and have run terror operations in other countries from there, European law enforcement officials say. Other groups that engage in terrorism, such as Hezbollah, also have received support from Iran, Western officials say.

Iran denies harboring terrorists.

Meanwhile, Turkish media reports identified the two suspected suicide bombers as Mesut Cabuk and Gokhan Elaltintas. The pro-establishment newspaper Milliyet reported that two Turks served as accomplices, allegedly securing the two pickup trucks used in the bombings. One of the accomplices trained with Al Qaeda in Pakistan, the newspaper said.

A senior Turkish intelligence official said those news reports were "pretty accurate" but cautioned that direct links between the suspects and Al Qaeda had not been confirmed.

Tuesday's developments fed suspicions that Al Qaeda has extended its global reach into Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and an ally of the U.S. and Israel.

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