| Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom (left) and his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul at a news meet in Istanbul on Sunday. (AFP)
Istanbul, Nov. 16 (Reuters): Suicide bombers driving two vans loaded with explosives carried out the devastating attacks on two Istanbul synagogues which killed at least 23 people, a diplomatic source said today.
Turkish media said each vehicle was packed with 400 kg of explosives and two corpses had been found with wires attached to them suggesting they might be suicide bombers.
Turkey and Israel, vowing not to let yesterday’s attacks damage rare close ties between the Jewish state and a Muslim nation, blamed what they called international terrorists.
Working side-by-side and inch-by-inch, Turkish police and Israeli Mossad secret service teams combed through the wreckage outside the two synagogues.
“The Turkish probe has found that the two separate attacks were suicide bombings,” a diplomatic source close to the investigation said.
The state-run Anatolian news agency quoted security sources as saying the bombs were made of ammonium sulfate, nitrate and petrol, all easily available, mixed in plastic containers.
“Two dismembered corpses have been discovered with wires wrapped around parts of their body,” Milliyet newspaper said.
While the human cost occupied front pages, questions started about what it would mean for Turkey’s hopes of a long awaited economic recovery.
“Terrorism will be perceived as a threat to stability in terms of more long-term investment which Turkey is desperately in need of, and for the whole long-term image of Turkey,” said Sevdil Yildirim of Yapi Kredi Securities in Istanbul.
Officials said international groups — possibly including Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida — might be behind the blasts, which killed Jews attending Sabbath prayers and Muslim passers-by.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan vowed to leave no stone unturned in bringing to justice those responsible for an attack which injured more than 300 people and wrecked buildings and cars over wide areas around the synagogues.
More than 70 victims remained in hospital.
“Our determination to fight terrorism in the international arena continues because this event has international links,” Erdogan said. “We must solve this in cooperation with other states.”
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told a weekly cabinet meeting:
“We saw yesterday yet again that terror knows no bounds. Terrorism doesn’t discriminate by religion or blood.”
Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom, who flew to Istanbul for talks with Turkish leaders and Jewish community members, laid a wreath near a large crater created by one of the blasts.
“Terrorism targets people everywhere and must be fought,” Shalom told reporters amid tight security.
The ground was strewn with broken glass and flowers left by well-wishers.
Shalom later told Israeli radio: “The direction (of suspicions) is believed to be more towards al Qaida.”
Turkish officials dismissed a claim made by a radical Turkish Islamist group that it was behind the attacks, saying that the movement lacked the capability to mount such a big attack.
The diplomatic source echoed this, saying: “The consensus is that this is a group on a far greater scale, operating beyond Turkey’s borders.”
Police also released four people briefly detained as suspects.
A senior Israeli security source said the blasts may have been the work of an al Qaida affiliate, possibly seeking to target both arch-foe Israel and moderate Muslim Turkey.
NATO member Turkey has been preoccupied by plans to send troops to Iraq — a move which it abandoned this month after strong protests by Iraq’s US-appointed governing council.
As a top tourist destination, Turkey is sensitive to incidents that tarnish its image and the blasts may also sour recent optimism generated by hopes of European Union membership.
“With the New Year coming, we were expecting so many customers. But yesterday, with the bombs, I’m afraid that they will all cancel,” said Ahmet Haksoyleyen, a carpet seller.