Turkish Government Links Bombings to Al Qaeda

Turkey's government Monday made its strongest statement yet about the link between last month's deadly bombings and Al Qaeda, saying the homicide attackers and their associates had ties with the terrorist group.

"According to the information we have right now, both those who were involved in these terrorist attacks as suicide bombers, and those who had relations with them, seem close to Al Qaeda, are linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist organization," Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener said after a Cabinet meeting.

Western and Turkish officials have said the homicide attacks on two Istanbul synagogues on Nov. 15 and the British Consulate and a London-based bank in Istanbul five days later bore similarities to attacks carried out by Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network. The bombings killed 61 people.

High-ranking Turkish officials have acknowledged that the attacks appeared to have international links, but have been hesitant to name Al Qaeda outright.

There have been at least three claims of responsibility for the bombings purportedly from Al Qaeda.

In his statement Monday, Sener spoke on behalf of the government following the Cabinet's first meeting since the latest attacks Nov. 20.

Turkish media have reported that authorities have been investigating whether the bombers belonged to a Turkish cell of Al Qaeda. All the homicide bombers were believed to be Turks.

More than 130 people have been detained in connection with the bombings and 21 have been charged, Sener said.

He also confirmed that 22 people suspected of involvement had been repatriated to Turkey from Syria. Hatay provincial Gov. Abdulkadir Sari said the suspects, who were handed over Sunday, were being interrogated in the southern city of Antakya, near the Syrian border.

No one has been charged. Six of those being questioned were under 18, the governor added.

Several key suspects were believed to have fled abroad.

Among those handed over by Syria was Hilmi Tugluoglu, who is linked to Azat Ekinci, a key suspect in the blasts, according to paramilitary police.

Also Monday, a prosecutor at a state security court questioned the wife of Mesut Cabuk, one of the synagogue homicide bombers, and another woman. The Anatolia news agency said the women were later released.

News reports have said Ekinci used cash and fake identities to buy the pickup trucks containing the bombs. Tugluoglu's wife also was brought to Turkey for questioning.

On Saturday, a court charged another key suspect, whom police said was captured last week while trying to slip into Iran, with attempting to overthrow Turkey's "constitutional order" -- a crime equivalent to treason. That man is accused of having given the order to carry out the bombing of the Beth Israel synagogue.

Nearly all major Turkish newspapers identified the man as Yusuf Polat, although police have only given his initials.

Turkish newspapers reported Sunday that Polat and others had confessed to belonging to a 10-man cell that he said was an extension of Al Qaeda.

Turkey's stock market resumed trading Monday for the first time since the Nov. 20 attacks. The benchmark trade index picked up around 8 percent by Monday afternoon, while the lira was steady at around 1,450,000 to the dollar.

"Turkey is a country that will pull together," said Tolga Ediz, an economist with Lehman Brothers in London. "There is no sign that this will have a massive impact on the economy."