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Sunday, November 16, 2003

Al Qaeda admits to synagogue bombings

Two newspapers received separate statements today claiming the al-Qaeda terrorist network carried out the bomb attacks against two Istanbul synagogues that killed 23 people.

A statement received by the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi said a unit of al-Qaeda executed the attacks yesterday because it learned that agents of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad were in the synagogues.

The claim was received by email from the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, which is suspected of links to al-Qaeda and which has sent at least three similar claims to the paper regarding previous attacks, Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the Arabic-language newspaper, told the pan-Arab cable station Al-Jazeera.

"The Mujahedeen of Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades ... after monitoring (Israel's) Mossad agents and confirming that five of the agents were present in two synagogues in central Istanbul, carried out their deadly blow," said the statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.

Another emailed claim of responsibility sent to the London-based weekly Al-Majalla said al-Qaeda carried out the Istanbul attacks as well as the car bomb outside Italian police headquarters in Nasiriyah, Iraq, on November 12 that killed 19 Italians and more than a dozen Iraqis. Al-Majalla, which does not publish until Friday, provided excerpts of the email to the AP.

The claim was signed by an al-Qaeda operative, Abu Mohammed al-Ablaj, the newspaper said.

There was no way to independently confirm the authenticity of either claim of responsibility.

A Turkish radical Islamic group had claimed the attacks, but authorities said it did not have the capacity or international ties to launch such a strike.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the government had also received information that al-Qaeda had claimed responsibility, and Turkish authorities were investigating the claims.

"Our security teams, our intelligence services have to work and determine the extent of truth of the claims," Erdogan said.

Earlier, Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu told the AP the attacks appeared to have international links.

"We are not ruling out any possibility, including al-Qaeda involvement," he said, adding that the identities or nationalities of the bombers were still unknown.

Aksu said the attacks - two minutes and five kilometres apart - appeared to be suicide bombings.

"I was convinced that these attacks were suicide bombings after I saw the scenes of the attacks and was briefed by authorities," Aksu said.

Aksu said the attacks involved a pair of Isuzu pickup trucks, each packed with explosives, and that they appeared to be carbon copies of each other.

Each vehicle was packed with some 400 kilograms of explosives, a mix of ammonium sulfate, nitrate and compressed fuel, a senior police official said, according to Turkey's semi-official Anatolia news agency.

The explosions, which also wounded about 300 Muslims and Jews alike, ripped off balconies and blew out windows several storeys up.

The iron entrance door to the Neve Shalom temple, Istanbul's largest synagogue and symbolic centre to the city's 25,000-member Jewish community, was ripped off.

In Beth Israel synagogue, where the six Jews who died in the bombings were killed, white prayer shawls were stained with blood. Prayer books were scattered on the floor. On a stained-glass panel of a door, the six-pointed Star of David remained intact.

Israeli intelligence and explosives experts have teamed with Turkish investigators to investigate the bombings.

"I thought it was doomsday," said Recep Ulubay, a Muslim whose deli shop near Beth Israel synagogue caters to the worshippers. "No religion can accept this. We are all children of the same God."

More . . .

See also this report on Al Qaeda threatening more car bombs . . . against the U.S. and its allies - particularly Britian, Italy, Australia and Japan.

A portrait of Al-Qaeda's leader Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda terrorists using the cover of anti-war protests are a real threat to the safety of US President George W. Bush during his state visit to London (AFP/File/Jimin Lai)