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Archive


 

Istanbul Synagogues Bombed

A few hours ago in Istanbul two simultaneous car bombs ripped through the streets around the Neve Shalom synagogue, just around the corner from the Galata Tower, and at the Beth Israel synagogue further up north in Sisli. The Interior Ministry is saying up to 23 people have been killed and more than 140 have been injured.



Here's the AP story.

Here's the Reuters story.

Here's the BBC report.

A radical Turkish group called the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders' Front has taken responsibility for the attacks. This is the worst act of terrorism in Turkey since 1986 when the same Neve Shalom mosque was the target of Palestinian gunmen who killed 22 Jewish worshippers, also on the Sabbath.

In this attack however, it appears that none of those inside the synagogue were killed. Instead Turkish Muslim residents in the area and on the street were the victims.

I'll update as the situation develops...


**UPDATE**: Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul appeared on television and said, "This is the first time we have seen such blasts. We believe they were caused by suicide attackers."

He also repeated Turkey's stance against terrorism: "It is clear that this is a terrorist event with international links. These attacks will have no effect on our policies. We will continue our struggle with strong determination against terror."

The Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan also condemned the attacks saying, "I condemn this act as an act of terror against humanity. Whatever necessary steps need to be taken... will be taken."

Turkey's president Ahmet Necdet Sezer echoed the sentiment: "In a period when we most need peace and tranquillity I strongly condemn these ugly attacks targeting innocent people."

The death toll is reported to have risen to 24, while the number injured appears to be over 150.

Israel has condemned the attack on the two synagogues. Israeli officials report that at one of the synagogues a bar-mitzvah was scheduled to take place.


**UPDATE 2**: Here are some of the latest photos from the scene.














**UPDATE 3**: A Turkish television news station, NTV, is reporting that police are saying that they had intelligence that indicated that al-Qaeda was possibly planning attacks in Turkey. Other officials have questioned the veracity of the claim by the group that has taken responsibility for the attacks and are saying that they suspect that this group doesn't have the capacity to carry out such an attack on its own.

The intelligence reports along with the coordinated nature of the attack and the Foreign Minister's claims of an "international link" seem to suggest the involvement of al-Qaeda. Such an attack against Turkish interests would likely be related to Turkey's recent offer to send troops to Iraq. It has since been withdrawn, but Turkish governmental support for the coalition effort remains strong.

In terms of why the synagogues were targeted, Turkish-Israeli relations have grown close in recent years for several reasons. Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize Israel in 1948 and the two have sign numerous agreements in recent years. Currently Turkey allows Israeli military aircraft to operate over the Anatolian plain for training purposes. Since Israel is such a small country, the use of Turkish airspace has been quite beneficial to the Israelis. Also, the two nations are working on various plans for transporting water resources to Israel where water is in short supply. On strategic grounds, both Israel and Turkey have sought to control the postures of Syria and both have rather unfriendly relations with the regime in Damascus - Turkey's reasons largely related to Syrian support of the Kurdish terrorist group, the PKK.

At this point such speculation might be putting the cart ahead of the horse, but any involvement from al-Qaeda is troubling to say the least.


**UPDATE 4**: The most recent AP report quotes the Turkish Health Minister, Recep Akdag as saying the official death toll is 17, but with 215 reported as wounded.

The group that claimed responsibility said that attacks would continue "to prevent the oppression against Muslims."

The article also makes mention of the April 2002 synagogue car bombing in Djerba, Tunisia which killed 21 people, mostly non-Tunisians. That attack was linked to al-Qaeda.

Inside the Neve Shalom synagogue some 300 people were worshipping, though it appears that most casualties were from those bystanders outside the synagugue.


**UPDATE 5**: The latest Reuters story has Turkish officials pointing the finger at al-Qaeda. Referring to previous al-Qaeda attacks against synagogues (in Tunisia and Morocco) the Turkish Interior Minister made the comparison to this Turkish attack:

"In both cases, vans were driven by the attackers toward their targets. We believe they contained the same kind of explosives, they are the same kind of terror attacks."

One policeman is reported to be among those killed.

Turkey's Jewish community is small, just 30,000, but is well respected in Turkish society. Said one Turkish Jew who was at the Neve Shalom synagogue when it was attacked: "Everyone in Turkey is treated equally, my neighbors are all Muslim."


**UPDATE 6**: Turkish news station NTV is reporting the official death toll at 20.

**UPDATE 7**: The AP is now also reporting that 20 people were killed in the two bombings. They quote the numbers from the Istanbul Health directorate which also says the number wounded is now at 257.

Also, security camera footage from the scene of the Neve Shalom synagogue shows a red Fiat being parked by the synagogue shortly before the explosion. The video shows a man walking from the car just before the car exploded.

**UPDATE 8**: Even the PKK is denouncing the attacks. A statement from the People's Congress of Kurdistan - formerly the PKK - said, "This is a place of worship that should not be targeted."

In terms of who the intended targets of these bombings were - presumably Jewish Turks - the attacks seem somewhat unsucessful considering only about four of those killed were Jewish. The other fatalities were pedestrians or local residents in the surrounding area. But of course, to a terrorist network as evil as al-Qaeda, the fact that their victims were mostly all muslim is probably of little concern. Al-Qaeda stopped discriminating long ago.

**UPDATE 9**: The Anadolu News Agency finally has a story about the bombings up on its website and it has a few more details and personal tales that the American press have neglected to tell.

**UPDATE 10**: I went to dinner and watched the Turkish news station NTV as they reported on the bombings. The wounded count now stands at 303, while fatalities remain at 20. Let's hope those numbers don't increase.

On a more personal note, a fellow American friend of mine who has been studying at Bilkent University here in Ankara went to Istanbul this weekend to meet up with one of his friends from back home. I had been trying to reach him all day but was unable to do so. Finally this evening he called me back - his phone had been off. He had been staying in the Taksim area which is just a few hundred meters north of the Neve Shalom bombing location. Despite having probably walked within a block or two of the site on his way to the Blue Mosque in the old part of Istanbul, he was unaware of the horrific events of the day. Lucky him.


**UPDATE 11**: Jews and Muslims together were the victims of this terrorist act. This is what the terrorist's destruction produced:



The U.S. State Department has issued its condemnation of the attacks. "The United States strongly condemns the horrific terrorist attacks against two synagogues in Istanbul earlier today," said deputy spokesman Adam Ereli. "The United States stands strongly with its close ally Turkey in the global war on terrorism. We will assist the Turkish government in every way possible to respond to this heinous act of terror and its perpetrators."

**UPDATE 12**: A fresh AP story is out that humanizes the horrific events of today:

"A crater outside the Neve Shalom synagogue, the largest in the city, illustrated the violence of the blast. Its facade collapsed into the street following the blast which witnesses said was caused by a booby-trapped vehicle.

"Two bodies, covered in dust, were left lying in the street, covered by old newspapers. Body parts lay on a car, on a pavement, and outside a shop.

"The identity of those killed was not immediately known, but they included at least one policeman and one private security guard who had been on watch outside one of the synagogues."



**UPDATE 13**: The latest from Reuters.

"A senior Israeli security source told Reuters the blasts seemed to be the work of an al Qaeda affiliate, possibly seeking to target both arch-foe Israel and moderate Muslim Turkey."

It seems that those responsible chose a Jewish site in Turkey as a target because it would hit two birds with one stone. Something as cowardly as this attack won't deter these two doves though. For Israel, the struggle will undoubtably continue against those who deny its right to exist. For Turkey, the success of the Turks as an open, secular people will remain as strong as ever. Turkey thrives today because of its respect for different people. Perhaps that is a legacy of the millet system of the Ottoman Empire, but it also stems from the founding of the Turkish Republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923. Either way, Turkey is on the right path and won't be deterred by acts of terrorism that seek to destroy its success.


**UPDATE 14**: Night falls on a grieving city.




**UPDATE 15**: President Bush issued a statement that condemned the attacks "in the strongest possible terms." He repeated a theme about al-Qaeda that never ceases to be true:

"The focus of these attacks on Turkey's Jewish community, in Istanbul's synagogues where men, women, and children gathered to worship God, remind us that our enemy in the war against terror is without conscience or faith."

One Jewish community leader in Istanbul spoke out on who he thought was responsible:

"We were not expecting such a blow because here in Turkey, in Istanbul in this beautiful city, we have always proved Islam and Judaism can live harmoniously in a peaceful manner, in a co-existence. I do presume that these are coming from outside, not within the country."

CNN reports in more detail about the nature of the Neve Shalom bombing:

"Eyewitnesses told police a red pickup truck parked in front of shop across from Neve Shalom on a narrow street. A shop staffer approached the driver and told him he couldn't park there. The driver had gotten out of the car to talk to the employee when the blast detonated."


**UPDATE 16**: As if it even matters - and it shouldn't since terrorism against innocents is horrific no matter who the victims are - the religious makeup of the 20 people killed has been released. Six of those dead were Jewish, 14 were Muslim. All six of the Jewish fatalities occured at the Beth Israel synagogue in Sisli where the explosion caused the roof to collapse.

A shopkeeper near the site of one of the explosions had this to say:

"Muslim, Christian, Jewish, people are people. Today it's them, tomorrow it could be me."


**UPDATE 17**: Overnight the death toll rose to 23 when three more bodies were found amid the destruction.

Prime Minister Erdogan visited some of those wounded in the attacks after cutting short his visit to Northern Cyprus:




**UPDATE 18**: Three people have been arrested in connection to the bombings. Two of the three are women.

There still seems to be some confusion over how exactly the blasts occurred. Some accounts say that the driver of the vehicle stopped the car where he couldn't park and walked away right before the explosion. Another account describes a basic drive-up-and-explode car bomb. Another says the driver was confronted right as he parked the car illegally and the bomb exploded as he was exiting the vehicle. So, it still may be unclear if the attackers died in the bombings.

Israel's Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom traveled to Istanbul and visited the site of one of the blasts and laid a wreath on the huge crater that was left in the street.

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan had some determined words:

"Whoever is behind it, no stone will remain unturned. A platform of shared struggle against international terror has been established."


  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 6:32:00 AM


Saturday, November 15, 2003  

 

About That 'Jobs' Thing

Spoken like a true Kenyon alum:

"There can't be a jobless recovery," Treasury Secretary John W. Snow recently told the Economic Club of Washington. "The nature of a recovery is to recover. You don't recover if lots of people are looking for work and can't find work."

It's always hilarious when administration officials forget/ignore their talking points. Sometimes the truth is just easier than jumping through hoops.

(via Kevin Drum)


  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 5:02:00 PM


Thursday, November 13, 2003  

 

A Great Democrat Once Said, Part III

"The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them."

If Bush echos the sentiments of Woodrow Wilson, don't blanketly reject them. Listen as Bush's speech matches up with some of our greatest Democratic leaders. We all know Bush is struggling (and that's a nice way to put it) to make good on his words, but his words largely remain true. It's our job to fix his horrible method of extending these fundamental beliefs in a way that doesn't alienate our allies and friends.

There is a better way to advance democracy. That is what Democrats are for.


  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 10:14:00 AM



 

A Great Democrat Once Said, Part II

"Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans - born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage - and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

"This much we pledge - and more."


Was John F. Kennedy committing America to a challenge that seemed too broad for its own success? Many thought so. Was his vision correct? Absolutely.

Democrats needn't surrender their ideals simply because a Republican has co-opted them. That's petty and short-sighted. Instead Democrats must work even harder to ensure that now that our ideals have a platform for success, as they do in this time, we are leading the way to their proper and benevolent implementation. If we sit back and do nothing but complain about Bush's tactics, we will lose sight of how much his speech echos that of our party's greatest statesmen. Too often today's Democrats lose touch with what is important in the end and merely look at the horrible way in which the Bush administration has gone about its policies.

Kennedy's words show where the Democrats came from. Who will carry them on?


  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 9:19:00 AM


Wednesday, November 12, 2003  

 

A Great Democrat Once Said...

"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world.

"The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world.

"The third is freedom from want -- which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in the world.

"The fourth is freedom from fear -- which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor-- anywhere in the world.

"That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

"To that new order we oppose the greater conception -- the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

"Since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change - in a perpetual peaceful revolution - a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions - without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.

"This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

"To that high concept there can be no end save victory."


This is what liberalism is. I dare you to tell me why FDR is wrong.


  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 6:02:00 PM


Tuesday, November 11, 2003