2003 Istanbul bombings
|2003 Istanbul bombings|
|Date||November 15, 2003 and November 20, 2003|
|Target||two synagogues, HSBC Bank, British Consulate|
The 2003 Istanbul bombings were four truck bomb attacks carried out on November 15, 2003 and November 20, 2003, in Istanbul, Turkey, leaving 57 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-three people, 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.
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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 thirty people and wounding 400 others. The bombers appeared to have waited for the traffic lights in front of the HSBC headquarters on the Büyükdere Avenue in Levent 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, one for every victim for the bombing plus additional terms for terrorism and conspiracy, as were five other Turkish men convicted of organising 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."
However, in 2010, Turkish investigators accused three of the highest-ranking military leaders at the time of the bombing of orchestrating the attacks in the hopes of destabilising the government and prompting a military coup. Gen Çetin Dogan, head of the 1st Army and then deputy chief of the military staff, Gen Ibrahim Fırtına, ex-air force chief, and former naval commander Admiral Özden Örne, along with 35 other ex-military personnel were arrested and questioned concerning their roles in Operation Sledgehammer, of which the bombings were reportedly a part.
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