Turkish police thwarted synagogue attacks just hours before fatal earthquake

Istanbul police arrested 15 Islamic State-affiliated individuals who were allegedly planning attacks on synagogues across Turkey


A few hours before two major earthquakes hit Turkey on Sunday, Istanbul police arrested 15 IS militants accused of plotting to carry out attacks on synagogues and churches in the country.

In addition to synagogues and churches, the country’s official news agency, Anadolu news, reported late Saturday that the group had planned attacks on the Swedish and Dutch consulates in Istanbul.

The potential attacks are believed to have been planned in retaliation for the public burning of a Quran by far-right activist Rasmus Paludan outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm last month. A similar action was subsequently carried out in The Hague by far-right politician Edwin Wagensveld.

In a statement, Istanbul police said: “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,”

The police added that they could not ascertain any “concrete threats” against the locations, despite being informed by international intelligence agencies that an attack could be imminent.

The suspects arrested were allegedly linked with the “Khorasan” wing of IS, known as IS-K, named after the Khorasan region of northeast Iran and parts of Afghanistan where they primarily operate.

In January, the US state department issued a warning to US citizens living in Turkey that terror attacks in the country may be carried out in places Westerners generally congregate, specifically naming churches and synagogues.

Turkish President Tayyip Erodgan announced a three-month state of emergency in 10 provinces worst affected by the earthquakes, as over 3,549 people are reported to have been killed in the country.

Israel’s Chief Rabbi David Lau has spoken with rabbis in Turkey, who reportedly told him that some Jews are still missing as a result of Monday’s earthquakes.

President of the Conference of Rabbis of Europe, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt said on Monday: “A terrible disaster occurred today on European soil and we all pray and hope that all the missing will be found safe and sound. We are anxiously following the situation of the Jewish community, and are sending reinforcements and prayers for their safety.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday announced Operation Olive Branches to dispense aid to Turkey and Syria, while the World Jewish Relief launched an emergency fundraising campaign.

Israel's humanitarian aid team is composed of 100 paramedics and IDF search and rescue teams.

Despite belligerent rhetoric between Netanyahu and Erdogan in the past, the two countries agreed to normalise relations last year.

President Erdogan, who has been in power for nearly 20 years, congratulated Mr Netanyahu on his successful re-election campaign at the end of last year.

Israel last assisted Turkey following a natural disaster in 1999 following a 7.6 magnitude earthquake in the country’s Kocaeli Province, while Turkey sent humanitarian aid to Israel in 2010 following the Mount Carmel forest fire in the country’s north.

There are estimated to be between 15,500 and 21,000 Jews of Sephardic origin living in Turkey, and none living in Syria.

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