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Turkey Probes Possible al-Qaida Role in Synagogue Bombing - 2003-11-17

Turkish investigators began probing claims that the al-Qaida terrorist network was responsible for twin blasts that rocked two Istanbul synagogues Saturday, killing at least 24 people and wounding more than 300 others.

In what Turkish police consider an important lead, a security camera at one of the synagogues filmed a suicide bomber as he drove a pick up truck packed with explosives. Police say they are trying to identify the truck driver. Police add they have further evidence pointing to likely involvement of an international group in the deadly suicide attacks against two Istanbul synagogues.

Among the pieces of evidence are the remains of a Pakistani passport retrieved near the shattered Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul's historic Galata neighborhood. Police say the passport bore no stamps of entry into Turkey, suggesting that its owner had entered the country illegally.

Turkish interior minister Abdul Kadir Aksu told Turkey's Vatan daily that there was no Turkish organization that could have carried out Saturday's attacks on its own. He said the attack had been planned by foreign groups.

Earlier, London-based al Quds-Al Arabi newspaper said it had received a statement Sunday from a group linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network claiming responsibility for the Istanbul blasts.

The group, called the Brigades of the Martyr Abu Hafz al-Masri, had also claimed responsibility for the August attack on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, which killed 23 people. The group said it had targeted the Istanbul synagogues because they were, in its words, frequented by Israeli intelligence agents.

Members of the Israeli security service are working alongside Turkish police in helping to gather and analyze evidence at both synagogues. The majority of victims in Saturday's simultaneous blasts were Muslim Turks who were passing by the synagogues.