ISTANBUL, Turkey (JTA) — Istanbul police have arrested 15 suspects connected to the Islamic State terror group, who were allegedly plotting to target synagogues and churches there, Turkish media reported on Sunday.
“15 people were detained on the grounds that the so-called Khorasan Province leadership of Daesh [IS] ordered an action against the Swedish and Dutch consulate generals and places of worship belonging to our Christian and Jewish citizens in Istanbul,” Istanbul police said in a statement according to the Turkish daily, Hurriyet.
Last month, the US state department issued a warning to US citizens residing in Turkey that terror attacks could be imminent against diplomatic institutions and places Westerners are known to congregate, specifically naming churches and synagogues.
The potential attacks were believed to be retaliation for the public burning of a Quran by a far-right Danish politician outside of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, in late January. The Quran burning sparked an outcry in Turkey and across the Islamic world, and a Muslim man threatened to burn a Torah scroll outside of Stockholm’s Israeli embassy.
Sweden’s Jewish community condemned the Quran burning.
Turkish Jewish institutions have been targeted before by terrorists responding to geopolitical issues. In 2003, Al-Qaeda orchestrated a wave of bombings in Istanbul, hitting symbolic Western targets, such as the British consulate and local headquarters of the British HSBC bank. They also bombed two Turkish synagogues, killing 28 people and injuring hundreds.
The suspects arrested Sunday were allegedly affiliated with the “Khorasan” wing of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS-K, who have warred with the Taliban in Afghanistan. They are focused on Khorasan, a region that historically covered the eastern frontier of the ancient Persian Empire.