Terrorism in Istanbul

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An explosion outside the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul killed at least 18 people

Overlooking Istanbul's Golden Horn, the historic neighborhood of Galata, founded as a Genoese trading port in the 14th century, has long served as a sanctuary for ethnic groups from around the world. Germans, French, British, Armenians, Greeks, Hungarians and Poles once lived there; Jews first settled in the area after fleeing the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. These days Turkey's Jewish community keeps a low profile, however. Galata's Neve Shalom synagogue, the city's largest, is barely visible behind facade of corrugated iron, security cameras and private security guards. Two Turkish policeman had kept watch outside. Both were killed Saturday, along with at least 18 others, when simultaneous car bomb blasts destroyed two synagogues in Turkey's commercial capital. More than 250 people were injured, including the Neve Shalom Rabbi and his son.

Ali Ozudogru, who runs a small chandelier business, was one of the first to the Galata blast. "Arms and legs and bits of flesh were everywhere," he said. "It was hard to know how to help, as the bodies were so mangled. I saw one person totally burnt, with just his eyes moving. Sirens wailed through the morning; hospitals put out an urgent plea for blood. The roof of Neve Shalom caved in and half the buildings on the street were gutted. Twisted pieces of the vehicle carrying the bomb—reportedly a red Fiat that cameras caught parking in front of the building just before the blast (its driver walked away)—were thrown up to 500 meters away. Shortly after the explosions, a group calling itself the Great Eastern Islamic Raider's Front claimed responsibility for the attack in the name of "oppressed Muslims everywhere.

But security analysts familiar with the group were skeptical that they could manage such a sophisticated operation; Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said it was "obvious" the attackers had "international connections." Closely coordinated attacks using cars packed with explosives triggered by remote detonators "pointed outside the country," agreed a Western diplomat.

Turkey distanced itself from the war in Iraq but it retains closer ties with Israel than any other Muslim country in the region. "This might well have been more directed at Israel than Turkey," said a diplomat. The Jews of Turkey could be no more than a symbolic target, though. In 1900 there were 300,000; today, there are just 27,000.