Report: Al Qaeda Behind Synagogue Bombings

Published November 16, 2003

| Associated Press

Two Arabic-language newspapers received separate statements Sunday claiming the Al Qaeda terrorist network carried out the car bombings outside two Istanbul (search) synagogues -- attacks that killed 23 people.

A statement received by the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi (search), a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, said a unit of Al Qaeda executed the attack on Saturday because it learned that agents of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad were in the synagogues.

Abdel Bari Atwan, the newspaper's editor, told the pan-Arab cable station Al-Jazeera that the claim was received by e-mail from the Abu Hafs al-Masri brigades, which is suspected of links to Al Qaeda (search) and which has sent at least three similar claims to the paper regarding previous attacks.

"The Mujahedeen of Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades ... after monitoring Mossad agents and confirming that five of the agents were present in two synagogues in central Istanbul, carried out their deadly blow," the statement said.

Another e-mailed claim of responsibility sent to the London-based weekly Al-Majalla said Al Qaeda carried out the Istanbul attacks as well as the car bomb outside Italian police headquarters in Nasariyah, Iraq, on Nov. 12 that killed 19 Italians and more than a dozen Iraqis. Al-Majalla, which does not publish until Friday, provided excerpts of the e-mail to the AP.

The newspaper said the claim received Sunday was signed by an Al Qaeda operative identified as Abu Mohammed al-Ablaj, whom officials in Washington have said in the past is believed linked to the terrorist network headed by Usama bin Laden.

The sophisticated attacks on the synagogues used pickup trucks stuffed with nearly identical explosives detonated minutes apart, likely by homicide bombers, officials said.

Israeli intelligence and explosives experts have teamed with Turkish investigators to investigate the bombings, which wounded more than 300 people, both Jews at the synagogues and Muslim bystanders on the streets.

Turkish Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu has said an international connection is "very likely." However, the interior ministry declined to comment on the reported claims of responsibility.

Forensic workers pieced together body parts and searched for clues amid the wreckage from blasts that Israeli experts said were stronger than most bombings they see at home.

Officials found two bodies fitted with wire, and one of them matched partial remains found in one of the attack cars, media reported, suggesting that the explosions were set off by homicide bombers and not by remote control.

Last week, the Al-Majalla newspaper received a claim from al-Ablaj stating Al Qaeda was responsible for the attack Nov. 8 on a housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that killed 17 people, mostly Arabs, and wounded scores of people.

The Sunday e-mail from al-Ablaj warned that attacks will be carried out against Japan, which was to send troops to Iraq but decided not to after the Italian bombing. It promised more attacks on other targets associated with Israel and the United States.

"The attacks against Jews and America will follow. Let America and Israel cry for their dead from today and the destruction that they will suffer," his e-mail said

There was no way to independently confirm the authenticity of either claim of responsibility.

The al-Masri group also issued a claim for the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad in August. U.S. officials in Washington said at the time that they could not authenticate the claim and it remained unclear if the group exists or is linked Al Qaeda.

In its statement received Sunday, it warned of further attacks and demanded that the United States release Arab prisoners held at Guantanamo in Cuba and stop making war on Muslim states. It also warned President Bush that attacks would be directed at the United States itself.

"There is more to come. By God, the Jews of the world will regret that their [men] thought of invading the lands of Muslims," the statement said.

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