US warns citizens of ‘imminent’ terror threat to synagogues, churches in Istanbul

State Department advisory urges caution around areas frequented by Westerners, fearing retaliation for recent Quran desecrations in Europe

People walk on the Metro Bridge in Istanbul on January 24, 2023. (OZAN KOSE/AFP)
People walk on the Metro Bridge in Istanbul on January 24, 2023. (OZAN KOSE/AFP)

The United States on Monday warned its citizens in Turkey of a potential “imminent” terror attack against synagogues, churches and diplomatic missions in Istanbul in retaliation for several recent incidents of Quran burnings in Europe.

The advisory — which updated a warning made earlier this week — told travelers to exercise caution in tourist sites popular with Westerners in the city, noting the areas of Beyoglu, Galata, Taksim and Istiklal as potential targets.

The notice added that the Turkish authorities were investigating the matter.

The Islamic world was infuriated this month when Rasmus Paludan, a far-right activist from Denmark, received permission from the police to stage a protest outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm in the course of which he burned a copy of the Quran. Days later, Edwin Wagensveld, leader of the far-right Pegida movement in the Netherlands, tore pages out of a Quran near the Dutch Parliament and stomped on them.

In response, millions of Muslims around the world took to the streets to protest.

Turkey strongly condemned the actions, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Sweden not to expect his support for its bid for membership in the NATO military alliance.

Protesters burn a portrait of far-right Danish-Swedish politician Rasmus Paludan in front of the Consulate General of Sweden in Istanbul on January 22, 2023. (Yasin AKGUL/AFP)

On Friday, Paludan, who holds both Danish and Swedish citizenship, told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that he would replicate the protest in front of the Turkish Embassy in Copenhagen every Friday until Sweden is admitted into NATO.

Ankara on Saturday issued a travel warning for the US and Europe in seeming retaliation for similar earlier alerts by Western powers for Turkey.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry’s first travel advisory warned of “dangerous levels of religious intolerance and hatred in Europe.” A separate statement said, “There have recently been verbal and physical attacks against foreigners and acts of racism committed throughout the United States.”

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