The 21st Century Phenomenon




A. On 11/15/2003, at about 11:00, local rush-hour, in Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, on the European side of the Bosporus Strait, two truck bombs slammed into Synagogues. One driven by Gokhan Elaltuntas, 22, slammed into the BETH-ISRAEL Synagogue, in Sisli neighborhood, in the Northern part of the city, and the second, driven by Mesut Cabuk, 29, slammed into NEVE SHALOM synagogue, in Beyoglu, about 4.5 km South to BETH-ISRAEL Synagogue. The two cars exploded killing 25 people, six Jews and 19 local Turkish citizens. More then 300 were injured.

The cars were loaded with Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer, that can be modified into explosive and the smell of Ammonia raised initial fears from a possible chemical attack.

An Islamic militant group – the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders’ Front (IBDA-C) took initial responsibility on the attack by sending faxes and e-mails to editors of local news papers. Turkish government officials dismissed the validity of this claim by pointing out that the minor group did not have enough resources to carry out such an intricate, planned and expensive attack.

On 11/17/2003, Al Qaeda’s Abu Hafes al Masri Brigade (Abu Hafes al Masri was the nick name of Mohammed Atef ) took responsibility on the attack by an email send to Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper in London. The Turkish authority managed to identify the ringleader of the attack as Habib Akdas, killed later in Iraq in 09/2004.

B. Just 5 days later, on 11/20/2003, a second attack carried out by the same cell, stroke Istanbul at almost the same hour 11:00. One car bomb, driven by Feridun Ugurlu exploded near the British Consulate, also in Beyoglu, and the second car, driven by Ilyas Kuncak, near the UK HSBC bank headquarters in Istanbul, in a shopping center in Levent neighborhood. The top UK diplomat in the city, Consul-General Roger Short, was among at least 14 people killed in the attack on the British consulate. 17 more were killed in the HSBC bank headquarters attack. About 400 were injured in the second Istanbul suicide attack.

On 11/30/2003 one of the cell leaders that carried out the double attack – Hilmi Tuglaoglu, was extradited from Syria to Turkey.  Yusuf Polat, the organizer of the 11/15/2003 attack on the Jewish synagogues was caught when he tried to cross the border to Iran on 11/25/2003.

The suspects included relatives of the bombers, all of whom came from Bingol, a center of Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey’s impoverished and mainly Kurdish Southeast near the Iranian border. Most of them knew each other and established their relations in Afghanistan in the years 2000 and 2001 and were instructed by Abu Musab al Zarqawi and Ansar al Islam in Iraq.

On 05/31/2004 the trial of 69 defendants was opened in Istanbul. They were accused of being Al Qaeda members and providing support to the Double Istanbul  attack. 9 were charged of direct involvement in committing the attack.


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