The 2003 Istanbul bombings were four truck bomb attacks carried out on November 15, 2003 and November 20, 2003, in Istanbul, Turkey, leaving 67 people dead, and 700 wounded. Several men have been convicted for their involvement in the bombing.
On November 15, 2003, two trucks carrying bombs slammed into the Bet Israel and Neve Shalom synagogues in Istanbul, Turkey and exploded. The explosions devastated the synagogues and killed twenty-seven people, most of them Turkish citizens, and injured more than 300 others. An Islamic militant group, IBDA-C, claimed responsibility for the blasts, but Turkish government officials dismissed these claims, pointing out that this minor group did not have enough resources to carry out such an intricately planned and expensive attack.
Five days later, on November 20, as US President George W. Bush was in the United Kingdom meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair, two more truck bombs exploded. Suicide bombers detonated the vehicles at the headquarters of HSBC Bank AS and the British Consulate, killing forty people and wounding 400 others. The bombers appeared to have waited for the traffic lights in front of the HSBC headquarters to turn red to maximize the effects. Several Britons were killed in the two attacks, including the top British official in Istanbul, consul general Roger Short, while the rest of the victims were mostly Turkish citizens (such as actor and singer Kerem Yılmazer), as in the earlier synagogue blasts. Police say that the bombers may have timed the attacks to coincide with Bush’s visit to the UK.
Turkey charged 74 people with involvement in the bombings, including Syrians Loai al-Saqa and Hamid Obysi, and a Turk, Harun Ilhan. Ilhan admitted that he and two other suspected ringleaders — Habib Akdaş and Gurcan Bac — were responsible; Ilhan referred to himself as ‘an al-Qaeda warrior’. Akdas fled to Iraq, where he was reportedly involved in a kidnapping, and was later killed by coalition forces in Fallujah. Bac’s location remains undetermined.Other reporting indicates that Bac was suspected of preparing the bombs with Fevzi Yitiz, and that Akdas and Ibrahim Kus participated in a meeting with bin Laden in 2002. Al-Saqa had already been tried in absentia in Jordan for his part, along with al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in the failed poison gas attack in 2002. On February 16, 2007, Al-Saqa and Ilhan were convicted and sentenced to 67 consecutive life sentences, as were five other Turkish men convicted of organizing the bombing: Fevzi Yitiz (for helping to build the truck bombs) and Yusuf Polat, Baki Yigit, Osman Eken and Adnan Ersoz. Seyit Ertul was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment for leading an al-Qaeda cell, and Obysi was sentenced to 12 years and 6 months for al-Qaeda membership, forgery and bomb-making.Of the other individuals who were charged, 29 were sentenced to 6 years and 3 months for aiding and abetting al-Qaeda, 10 were sentenced to 3 years and 9 months membership in al-Qaeda, and 26 were acquitted. A Turkish intelligence official who was part of the investigation said: “They planned and carried out the attack independently after receiving the blessing of bin Laden.”
Turkey — Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to defeat the terrorists. “The goal of these attacks is doomed to be destroyed in the face of the government’s determination… and international solidarity in fighting terrorism,” he said. Interior Minister Abdülkadir Aksu said suicide bombers caused the explosions. Of the injured, four were in critical condition and 15 others were undergoing surgery, Istanbul health officials said. Sky Turk reporter Mustafa Azizoglu told Fox News “this is not an ordinary attack,” and said “this is the eleventh of September for Istanbul.” The explosions were “trying to target Western financial institutions,” he added. Turkish authorities said the same groups were behind Saturday’s nearly simultaneous synagogue bombings in Istanbul, which killed 23 people and the two attackers. Turkish media reported the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers, but the governor’s office said only that attackers blew up explosive-laden pickup trucks.
United States — U.S. State Department knows of no Americans killed or hurt in the blast. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said three or four British employees from the consulate had not reported to roll call following the blasts.
Marc Ginsberg, a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco, told Fox News that two domestic Islamic militant groups – the Great Eastern Raiders’ Front and Kurdish Hezbollah, or Party of God (not affiliated with Lebanese Hezbollah, but rather a group originally supported by the Turkish state as a rival to the Kurdish PKK, a secular Kurdish separatist movement) – were increasing activities in Turkey. “These are local affiliates, more or less, of the Al Qaeda network,” Ginsberg said. “These organizations apparently have resurrected themselves in Turkey in recent months and these are the organizations that are doing the dirty work of Al Qaeda in Turkey.”
As the holy month of Ramadan comes to a close, “Al Qaeda franchise organizations are trying to show their strength,” he added. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Thursday’s attacks “appear to be in the method of operation or the operational style of Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda operatives or affiliates.” “We are deeply distressed over this assault on the liberty, live and security of individuals in Turkey,” Ashcroft said. “It is quite clear that terrorism is very, very active at this moment and at this time, but it has been active since September 11(attacks) …we should make no mistake that somehow terrorism is abating.”
Israel — “One can hardly imagine a more tragic, violent and cruel attack than to simultaneously go after two places of worship on the Sabbath in order to kill a maximum amount of people who are busy praying and worshipping their God,” said Daniel Shek, a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom extended his condolences to Turkey and the Turkish people, the Jewish community in Turkey, and the families of the killed, and sent his wishes for a speedy recovery to those injured in today’s terrorist attacks in Istanbul, Turkey.
Syria — Syria strongly condemned the bomb attacks, calling them “terrorist”. Syrian Information Minister, Ahmad al-Hassan, expressed his country’s solidarity with Turkey, referring to the latter as “a neighbouring state and friend”. Syria also gave to the Turkish authorities 22 suspects in the bombing, who had reportedly fled Turkey after the attack.
United Nations — The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1516 on November 20, 2003, condemning the attacks and expressing sympathy to the families of the victims and to the British and Turkish governments.