ISTANBUL, Turkey - The bombing of two synagogues, purportedly claimed by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, focuses attention on Turkey's deep, lucrative relationship with Israel and questions whether Turkey is now paying the price for that friendship.
A statement yesterday to the London-based Arab-language newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi claimed al-Qaida carried out the attacks during Saturday prayers because it had learned agents from the Israeli Mossad secret service were using the synagogues. The authenticity of the statement could not immediately be verified.
For years, Jewish Israel and Muslim-but-secular Turkey have maintained military, economic, commercial and strategic ties. A relationship based on regional isolation and the threat of common enemies, the two countries exchange intelligence, buy or sell everything from tanks and helicopters to water, and annually join in war games most recently dubbed Reliant Mermaid.
Israeli investigators rushed to the wreckage left by the double car bombings and on Sunday picked through the ruins in search of clues. Specialized rescuers from Israel were also at work, and three additional bodies were recovered, raising the death toll to 23: six Jews, including an 8-year-old girl and her 85-year-old grandmother, and 17 Muslims.
Israeli and Turkish officials said yesterday they would not let the bombings damage their relations.
"These attacks against prayers were cowardly attacks carried out by extremists who don't want to see countries that are sharing values of democracy, freedom and rule of law," Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said after arriving in Istanbul and inspecting the devastation.
He laid a wreath in the knee-deep ruins at the Neve Shalom synagogue, where Turkish residents had also scattered yellow and white chrysanthemums.
At the bombed synagogues, investigators were focusing on the ingredients used to concoct the huge car bombs in an effort to connect them to a string of attacks in Morocco, Tunisia and Kenya over the last 18 months - all of which targeted Jews.
Security officials, speaking before yesterday's al-Qaida claim, told Turkish news media that the two 850-pound bombs, detonated moments apart, appeared to be the well-planned work of Turkish extremists backed by foreign mentors.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.