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Al Qaeda makes claim in bombings

Terror group says it plans more attacks

ISTANBUL -- In statements sent to two Arabic newspapers, the terrorist group Al Qaeda claimed responsibility yesterday for the bombings on Saturday of two synagogues here as the death toll rose to 23, with more than 300 wounded. In a statement sent to London's Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper by a division of Al Qaeda, the terror network said it was planning more bombings around the world, and specifically mentioned Britain, Italy, Australia, and Japan.

The statement reinforced assessments by Turkish and Israeli officials, who sifted through debris yesterday at the two sites -- short city blocks devastated by car bombs each consisting of nearly 900 pounds of explosives.

"The statement said that they carried out the operations after they found out that Mossad [Israeli intelligence] agents were working at the synagogues and therefore they bombed them," Abdel-Bari Atwan, the editor of Al-Quds Al-Arabi, told Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television.

Atwan said his newspaper received the statement in an e-mail from an Al Qaeda division called Brigades of the Martyr Abu Hafz al-Masri. The same group claimed responsibility for the Aug. 19 attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad, in which 23 people were killed.

According to the Associated Press, another e-mailed claim of responsibility was sent to the London-based weekly Al-Majalla. That statement said Al Qaeda carried out the Istanbul attacks, as well as a car bombing Wednesday in Nasariyah outside Italian police headquarters, which killed 19 Italians and more than a dozen Iraqis.

"Al Qaeda promised a huge campaign during Ramadan," said Peter Bergen, a terrorism specialist based in Washington, "and they've been delivering."

Bergen, author of a best-selling book on Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and militant Islam, said the simultaneous attacks bore the hallmark of an Al Qaeda operation.

If true, news that the attacks were initiated outside of Turkey would probably provide a measure of grim comfort to Jews here, who have largely prospered in Turkey in contrast to other Muslim countries, but whose synagogues have been targeted before.

Turkish authorities said they were now nearly certain suicide bombers drove the vehicles to both synagogues and detonated the explosives. According to several reports, investigators found wires attached to two bodies in the wreckage.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom flew to Turkey to show solidarity with the Jewish community. He toured the wreckage and said initial findings appeared to point to Al Qaeda, though more definitive conclusions could only be reached after the identity of the bombers was established.

The assessment was echoed by Turkish Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu, who told the Associated Press: "It is very likely that there is an international connection. We are not ruling out any possibility, including Al Qaeda involvement."

Aksu said the attacks involved a pair of Isuzu pickup trucks, while Turkish news reports said the license plates were fake and that false documents were used to purchase one of the trucks last month.

Six of the 23 dead were Jews, including Yona Romano, whose son, Tori, said yesterday that his first thought after hearing of the attack was to leave Turkey and never come back.

Tori Romano said his father had been attending Saturday prayers at the Beth Shalom synagogue every week for the past four years, ever since a heart attack drove him to become more religiously observant.

He had a regular seat at the synagogue, though he forfeited it to another man Saturday who wanted to be close to the window.

When the bomb exploded, the man sitting in Romano's seat was killed instantly. Romano was hit in the face with glass or shrapnel. He called his son from the taxi on the way to a neighborhood hospital.

"He said he had lost his vision in one eye but told us not to panic, that he was OK," Tori Romano recounted.

Tori and his mother rushed to the hospital where Romano was being treated in the emergency room. By the time Romano's doctors were alerted to his heart condition it was too late -- Romano was already going into cardiac arrest.

"We sat outside the emergency room and every time the door swung open I caught a glimpse of him," said Romano, who described watching his father falling from his chair, being resuscitated, and finally being pronounced dead.

Tori Romano said he initially felt rage at his countrymen, until he realized the attack was probably initiated by militants from outside Turkey.

"I calmed down a little bit. More Muslims were killed in the attacks than Jews. And generally our life is good here," he said in a corner room at his parents' home yesterday, while the rest of the family sat in the living room observing shiva, the traditional seven-day mourning period.

He said his father's best friend was Muslim -- the two men and their wives had planned to vacation next week in Palermo.

"I was the only Jew in my primary school and my high school but I never experienced any anti-Semitism . . . certainly not to my face," Tori Romano said.

Muslim shop owners in the vicinity of the two synagogues also talked about the ease with which Jews and Muslims get along.

"We've had good relations for a long, long time," said Nevzat Sirin, who owns a barber shop near the Neve Shalom synagogue. "They would wave to me on their way to prayers and I would come out and say hi whenever they had a special event or a holiday," said Sirin, who suffered cuts to his face and hands from the explosion.

Many Turkish Jews immigrated to Israel after its establishment in 1948, but the community that stayed behind was larger and more secure than in other Muslim countries.

The community has benefited from the strengthening of commercial and military ties between Turkey and Israel in recent years. But Soli Ozel, a specialist on Turkish Jews, said anti-Jewish sentiment is not wholly absent in Turkey and is often stoked by Israel's conflict with the Palestinians. "Anti-Semitism is ascendant all over the world, and many people in this country would not shed tears about Jews dying," said Ozel, who teaches international relations at Bilgi University in Istanbul.

"But we haven't seen repetitive vicious attacks on Jews verbally. If people hold private prejudices, it usually doesn't translate into anything on a grand scale," he said.

Stephen J. Glain of the Globe staff contributed to this report from Washington.

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