Istanbul bomber didn’t set out to target Israelis, Jerusalem says
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Istanbul bomber didn’t set out to target Israelis, Jerusalem says

Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau determines Islamic State terrorist sought to damage Turkey’s sizable tourism industry

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Turkish police, forensics and emergency services work at the scene of an explosion on the pedestrian Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul on March 19, 2016. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)
Turkish police, forensics and emergency services work at the scene of an explosion on the pedestrian Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul on March 19, 2016. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

The Counter-Terrorism Bureau at the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday said the Islamic State suicide bomber who killed three Israeli tourists in Istanbul last month did not specifically target the group for being Israeli, but was taking aim at tourism in Turkey in general.

The bureau earlier this month issued a travel warning calling on Israelis to avoid visiting Turkey, and urging those currently staying there to leave as soon as possible, citing “real and immediate terror threats throughout the country.” The alert said Islamic State terrorists in Turkey had “high capabilities” of carrying out further attacks against tourist targets.

Days later, Turkish police issued a nationwide alert warning of possible jihadist attacks targeting Christians and Jews, state-run news agencies reported.

The bureau said Sunday that Israeli security agencies carried out a month-long investigation into the March 19 blast, which killed an Iranian national alongside the three Israelis — Simha Dimri, 59, Avraham Goldman, 70, and Yonathan Suher, 40 — in a busy Istanbul shopping hub on March 19. Turkish authorities later identified the bomber as a local IS member.

The new assessment appeared to depart from an earlier Defense Ministry evaluation, which determined there was “reasonable basis for the belief that the attack was directed at Israelis.”

A Turkish policeman runs after an explosion on the pedestrian Istiklal avenue in Istanbul on March 19, 2016. (AFP / Bulent KILIC)
A Turkish policeman runs after an explosion on the pedestrian Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul on March 19, 2016. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

The April 5 statement from the ministry did not detail what led to its “reasonable basis.” However, the move qualified the 14 Israeli victims of the attack and their families as eligible for special state benefits.

Israel’s travel advisory for Turkey remains in place despite the new security assessment.

In the days following the attack, reports in Turkish media said the bomber followed the tour group from their hotel to a restaurant, and waited outside for them before detonating the bomb. However, neither Jerusalem nor Ankara has confirmed those claims.

The Islamic State has been blamed for four of six bombings that have rocked Turkey in the past eight months, including a double suicide attack at a peace rally in the capital, Ankara, in October of last year that left 103 people dead.

A radical offshoot of the rebel Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) claimed responsibility for the other two attacks.

Simha Dimri (L), 60, Yonathan Suher (C), 40, and Avraham Goldman (R), 69, the three Israelis who were killed in a suicide bombing in Istanbul, March 19, 2016. (Photos courtesy of the families/Facebook via JTA)
Simha Dimri (left), 60, Yonathan Suher (center), 40, and Avraham Goldman (right), 69, the three Israelis who were killed in a suicide bombing in Istanbul, March 19, 2016. (Courtesy of the families/Facebook via JTA)

In the wake of the string of attacks, the US diplomatic corps in March ordered the families of American diplomats and military personnel to leave their posts in southern Turkey over security concerns.

Tens of thousands of Israelis visit nearby Turkey each year, despite strained diplomatic relations between the two countries. A report on Channel 2 News earlier this month reported that over 110,000 Israelis were planning to vacation in Turkey during the upcoming Passover holiday, despite the travel warning.

The travel warnings come amid heightened security concerns throughout Turkey due to the ongoing fight against IS militants in neighboring Syria and Iraq.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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