Turks seek clues in attack on synagogue. Libyan, Iranian, Syrian missions under scrutiny
Istanbul — Despite intensive investigations, Turkish police have been unable to unearth clues about the identity, motives, or connections of the two gunmen who attacked an Istanbul synagogue Saturday. However, there is no dearth of speculation among officials and observers.
``We are carefully studying and considering all possibilities and all kind of names,'' a senior official says. ``But it's too early to say.''
According to reliable sources, the police are keeping a close eye on three diplomatic missions -- those of Libya, Syria, and Iran. Security experts seem convinced that the gunmen must have had direct or indirect connections with at least one of the missions.
The explosives used in the attack, in which 21 Jewish worshippers and the two attackers died, were reportedly of the same type that two Libyans tried to use against a United States officers' club in Ankara last April. Evidence about that attempt points to contacts between the two men and the Libyan Embassy.
``It would not be surprising for the Libyans who failed then to have tried again this time by choosing a synagogue as an easier target,'' one official surmises.
Another possibility police are reportedly investigating is a Turkish connection. After Turkey's 1980 military coup, authorities cracked down on extremist and terrorist groups at home. But there are recent signs that some members released from jail have started reorganizing. Moreover, there has been a growing Islamic fundamentalist trend in Turkey, possibly drawing inspiration from Iran and Libya. Both governments have recently criticized Turkey's foreign policy.
Police are also trying to verify reports that the two terrorists were not operating alone. Turkish authorities say there were two gunmen and that both are dead. But security experts and analysts say privately that there must have been backup people. These experts do not discount the testimony of shopkeepers near the Neve Shalom synagogue who say they saw two young people running away after the explosion.
Since the attack, police have rounded up dozens of people in Istanbul and Ankara for questioning, but released them all. The presence of numerous Iranian refugees, Arab students, and Middle Eastern tourists in these cities makes the job of the police more difficult.
The bodies and clothing of the two attackers carried no clues to their identification. The men are assumed to be Middle Eastern by their appearance. According to one witness who survived the attack, the two terrorists spoke in Arabic. So far, there have been four conflicting claims of responsibility have by Palestinian, Shiite Muslim, and Arab groups.
Turkish officials seem hopeful that conclusive evidence will be eventually found. What worries them, though, is that this evidence might affect and damage Turkey's regional policy.
Prime Minister Turgut Ozal says he views the attack as an indication that ``there are forces that want to drag Turkey into the Middle East conflicts.'' Turkey has tried to steer clear of inter-Arab differences, the Arab-Israeli dispute, and the Iran-Iraq war. In recent weeks, Turkey has moved to warm ties with Israel, by sending a senior diplomat to Tel Aviv. And Israeli intelligence is reportedly helping Turkish police with the investigation.
The Turkish press, which has sympathized with the Jewish community over what it calls an inhuman and intolerable attack, is also drawing attention to the political implications of the incident.
``We must be careful and vigilant, at this critical time, not to lose our impartial and balanced policy towards the Mideast,'' one editorial said.
Istanbul's 21,000-strong Jewish population, still reeling from the shock of the attack, is preparing for a funeral ceremony to be held Wednesday. At the Neve Shalom synagogue, workers are cleaning up the rubble. Rabbis from Israel and Europe, and American Jewish leaders are expected to attend the service.