Three Israeli citizens are among the dead after a suicide bomber killed four and wounded at least 35 more in Istanbul on Saturday.
Two of the murdered Israelis had dual American citizenship. Of the wounded, eleven are Israelis who were touring the country together with a group that totaled 14 members. Six more Israelis that were known to be at the scene are still missing. Four of the wounded were Arab-Israelis citizens. The fourth victim is an Iranian tourist.
The ratio of Israelis killed and wounded in the attack has generated concern that the victims’ nationalities was no coincidence.
Naama Peled, one of the wounded Israelis, told Ynet, “We were a group of Israelis on a tour; he just exploded on us,” she said, just before being taken into the operating room. ““We were sitting in a restaurant and then the bomber came in and there was an explosion. I saw the terrorist with my own eyes.”
Tragedy: the 3 Israelis who were murdered in the Turkey suicide bombing. BDE pic.twitter.com/mxZzO8HUHX
— StandWithUs (@StandWithUs) March 20, 2016
Initial reactions following the attack did little to assuage these concerns and in fact only exacerbated the situation.
Irem Aktas, a member of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AKP Party and the Women’s Media & Publicity Chairman, shared on the social media network Twitter, “I wish that the wounded #Israeli tourists were dead”. In a second tweet, she added: “When Israel was attacking your Muslim brothers, why didn’t you say anything.”
It was later reported that Aktas was removed from her position as a result of her Tweets.
Once warm relations between Israel and Turkey, which included extensive military and economic cooperation, have been strained since the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010 when the Turkish ship attempted to cross the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Ten Turkish nationals were killed when Israeli commandos boarded the ship.
The attack in Istanbul occurred at 11am in a popular shopping district and tourist attraction, on a street closed off to vehicular traffic, leading to conjecture foreigners were targeted .
Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu announced Saturday night that the government was investigating the possibility that the attack was intended to target Israelis. Today, Netanyahu announced to the press at the foreign ministry, “We don’t have any confirmation that the attack targeted Israelis.” Regardless, Netanyahu ordered security to be increased around Israeli diplomatic missions in Istanbul.
Israel’s counter-terrorism bureau issued a travel warning Saturday night cautioning Israelis against pleasure trips to Turkey. Netanyahu stated that the travel advisory may be escalated, warning Israelis to avoid traveling to Turkey altogether.
Members of the Istanbul Jewish community told NRG, “A few days ago, the Jewish community was updated that apparently there would be a terror attack and that we should take precautions. There were warnings as such.”
After the attack, the Great Synagogue in Istanbul was evacuated in the middle of the Sabbath prayers.
Foreign Ministry Director Dore Gold has cut short his visit in the US, where he was supposed to address the AIPAC conference in Washington this week. He is currently en route to Istanbul.
US State Department spokesman, John Kirby, released a statement to the press saying “The United States stands in solidarity with our NATO ally Turkey in combating the common threat of terrorism. This vicious attack is the latest in a series of indefensible violence targeting innocent people throughout Turkey — Turkish citizens and international visitors alike.”
Two Israeli IDF medical planes were sent to Istanbul to evaluate the condition of the Israelis and to determine whether they should be brought to Israel for treatment. Five Israelis have been repatriated via the flights. Members of ZAKA, an emergency medical response organization, accompanied the bodies of the dead as they were returned to Israel.
Yesterday’s attack is part of a long string of deadly violence that has plagued Turkey. There have been over 200 people killed in five major terror bombings in Turkey since July. Last Sunday, a car bombing killed 37 people in Ankara and wounded 125.
No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing though the Islamic State (ISIS) is strongly suspected. Unconfirmed Turkish reports identified the Istanbul terrorist as 33-year-old Savaş Yulduz, associated with ISIS.