Turkey says it's near bombers' ID

DNA tests on remains after synagogue attacks

al-Qaida link suspected

November 18, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Turkish officials said yesterday that they were close to identifying the suicide bombers who attacked two synagogues here Saturday, killing 24 people and injuring more than 300.

Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said results of DNA tests on tissue believed to belong to the drivers of the two explosives-packed pickups were expected today.

"We believe that the DNA tests will lead us to a definite conclusion," he told the state press service, Anatolia Agency.

Suspicion for responsibility in the bombings has focused on al-Qaida, though Turkish officials say they expect to find some local involvement. The government said it is assessing the credibility of a claim by an obscure al-Qaida-linked group that it was responsible.

The claim by the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades was e-mailed to a London-based Arab newspaper Sunday. The group has made false claims in the past.

The bombing has raised anxiety here that the violence in Iraq and across the Mideast will spread to Turkey again.

The Turkish government has an interest in implicating international terrorists in the attacks because such a threat would enhance the country's position as a partner in the American-led campaign against terror and validate its own efforts against Kurdish fighters in the southeastern part of the country. Turkey has been criticized for that effort, which many people in the West regard as politically motivated and excessively repressive.

Finding that the attacks were carried out by domestic Islamic terrorists, in contrast, would reflect badly on the ruling Justice and Development Party, which grew out of a now-disbanded, conservative Islamic party.

Many people in Turkey are already skeptical of the party's commitment to the strict secular government that the country has developed over the past 80 years. Domestic responsibility would raise questions about whether the ruling party's presence at the head of a secular government was stirring up Islamic fundamentalist discontent in the country.

Turkish news media reported yesterday that police have arrested the men whose identity papers were used to buy and register the trucks used in the attacks. The reports said both men claimed the papers had been stolen and police suspect the brother of one and the son of another to be the bombers.

There was no official confirmation of those reports, however, and Feyzullah Arslan, deputy director of Turkey's Security Forces, said in a telephone interview from Ankara that all of the media reports are "products of the imagination."

"Everybody is writing something, but we don't have any such information," Arslan said. "The earliest we can have some solid information is on Wednesday morning."

The country's interior minister, Abdulkadir Aksu, told reporters the bombs, each containing about 500 pounds of ammonium sulphate, nitrate and fuel oil, were made in Turkey.

He said investigators were using computer enhancement and analysis technology in an attempt to identify the driver of one of the explosive-packed Isuzu pickup trucks captured on a security camera video as he drove up to one of the synagogues just before the blast.

Turkish media reported that police believe the man in the truck was Azad Ekinici, who had been questioned in the past for links to a small, local Islamic group, IBDA-C, or the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders' Front.

The media reported that the pickup truck was bought and registered using identification papers from Ekinici's brother, who they said is now in custody.

The Great Eastern Islamic Raiders' Front claimed responsibility for the bombings within hours Saturday. The radical Islamic group has been implicated in past bombings and assassinations, particularly in the 1970s, but the execution of those attacks was relatively crude, terrorism experts say.

Turkish government officials and local terrorism experts quickly discounted the group's claim, saying it is not large enough or sophisticated enough to carry out such an attack.

It is possible, though, that members of the group have links to al-Qaida. Turkish media have reported that handwritten notes in Turkish about how to carry out suicide bombings were found at an al-Qaida training camp near Jalalabad, Afghanistan, two years ago.

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