- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 22, 2003

ISTANBUL — The devastating suicide bombings in Istanbul were planned in an Internet cafe in the remote eastern Turkish town of Bingol and coordinated with al Qaeda, according to officials.

Turkish police seized records and equipment from the Bingol Internet Merkezi Cafe owned by Gokhan Elaltintas, thought to have been one of two suicide bombers who attacked synagogues in Istanbul nine days ago, killing at least 23 persons.

Police have named Azad Ekinci and Feridun Ugurlu — also from Bingol — as prime suspects in the attack on the British Consulate and the HSBC bank offices Thursday, which killed 30 persons and injured more than 400.

The four bombers — natives of a town that is connected to the rest of Turkey by one treacherous road — had traveled across the Middle East and South Asia before returning home to form a terrorist cell that was activated this month.

They are believed to have received weapons training in Pakistan and at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.

Security officials told the Turkish National Security Council Friday night that as many as 1,000 Turks have trained in Islamist terrorist camps in the past decade.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has said that the two suspects in the latest bombings had visited Afghanistan, while the Turkish media reported that one trained in Iran in 2001.

U.S. intelligence officials said that both men trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, and returned to Turkey in 2001.

Bingol’s proximity to Iran and Syria, which have become havens for al Qaeda since the Taliban regime was overthrown in Afghanistan, made it attractive as a base for plotting the terror attacks.

Al Qaeda operatives are believed to have made their way to Turkey to help design the bombs and fuses, picking the targets and planning the missions. They also taught the Turkish cells how to communicate with encrypted messages posted on the Internet.

The Merkezi Internet Cafe remains open, but prominent on its wall is an official notice stating: “It is definitely banned to enter sites targeting the state, country and its inseparable integrity and constitutional order.”

Elaltintas’s uncle, Hassan Aktash, said that his nephew was a quiet young man who rarely left Bingol before his move to Istanbul.

The second synagogue bomber, Mesut Cabuk, was an acquaintance, the uncle said. His nephew was also a lifelong friend of Azad Ekinci, whose brother opened the Internet cafe with Elaltintas’s father two years ago.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke yesterday of the national shame that Turks had inflicted such carnage in Istanbul.

“Citizens with links abroad have carried out the attacks,” he said at a funeral for two policemen who died at the British consulate. “We have lost four terrorists who were our citizens.”

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