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Cablegate: Terror Strikes Istanbul Masonic Lodge

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 000432

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PTER PHUM PREL TU
SUBJECT: TERROR STRIKES ISTANBUL MASONIC LODGE

REF: ISTANBUL 375


1. (SBU) Summary: On March 9, a botched suicide attack
against an Istanbul Masonic lodge left 2 dead and 7 wounded
(reftel). Investigations continue, but police statements and
assorted press reports suggest that there may have been a
network of planners and accomplices, as well as connections
to a murder last year and possibly even to the November
bombings of two Istanbul synagogues, the British Consulate
and the HSBC building (Note: Istanbul police have not
confirmed the latter). Meetings with representatives of the
Masons and Turkey's Jewish Community indicate a shared
perception that "Islamic" terrorists have targeted their
institutions. End Summary.


2. (SBU) Witnesses report that on March 9, 2 suicide bombers
entered the Free Mason temple in Yakacik in the Kartal
district of Istanbul, shot a security guard, and, while
shouting Islamic slogans, opened fire on a Masonic lodge
assembled for dinner. Police report that 4 of 14 bombs
strapped to the bombers then exploded, killing one bomber and
a waiter, and injuring the other bomber and several Masons.
The bomber who survived the attack is in stable condition in
police custody. The investigation has led to over a dozen
arrests. Police have linked one of the weapons used in the
attack to the murder last year of a Jewish dentist. One of
the men arrested has since "confessed" to the murder.
Istanbul police contacts told us that this suspect was also
responsible for building the bombs used on March 9. Some of
those involved (including the dead bomber) reportedly
received terrorist training in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Another man arrested since the bombings (at the airport about
to board a flight to Pakistan) was also wanted in connection
with the November bombings (our police contacts could not
confirm any direct connection, however, between this latest
attack and those earlier bombings). The Governor announced
last week that, in the course of this investigation, police
had uncovered and thwarted a plan to conduct another bombing
(note: unconfirmed press reports suggest that the target was
a television network, aTV, perhaps chosen because of its
"Jewish financing." aTV is owned by Dinc Bilgin, who,
according to our Jewish community contacts, may, in fact, be
a "secret" Sabbatai Jew).


Turkey's Long Masonic History
-----------------------------
3. (SBU) A senior local member of the Free Masons told poloff
that the Masons have been active in Turkey for most of the
last two hundred years. With 13,000 active members and
almost 200 lodges, there are Masons in almost every major
Turkish city. The largest concentration is in Istanbul where
there are 108 lodges that operate out of three temples that
also serve as community centers and gathering places (Note:
"lodges" refer to groups of Masons who typically meet once
every two weeks at one of the temples). The recent attack
took place at one of the three temples where one of the
lodges was assembled for dinner.


4. (SBU) During the Ottoman period, the Masons are believed
to have supported the "tanzimat" (reformation) movement in
the late 19th century and the "Young Turk" movement in the
early 20th century. Key "Young Turks," including Talat Pasa,
Enver Pasa, and Cemal Pasa, were all reportedly Masons
themselves. Additionally, many of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's
advisers may also have been Masons. Our contact confirmed
these rumors and argued that as a result of their support for
these democratic and pro-Western reforms, Turkish Masons have
been seen as "enemies" by "fundamentalist Islamists." This
antipathy increased markedly over the last 30 years.
Necmettin Erbakan and others close to him espoused
anti-Masonic messages as they worked to develop successive
Islamic political parties.


5. (SBU) The secretive nature of the Turkish Masons ("even
more so than in the U.S., our contact noted) has generated an
image problem for them in Turkey. In 1999, the then-Grand
Master launched a public campaign to address this problem
(this included a public exhibit and television interviews,
one of which was re-aired last week), but successive leaders
have attached less importance to this issue. In general, our
contact believes that educated Turks are either "pro-Mason"
or "neutral," and that their principal problem is the
"anti-Islamic" accusations that have poisoned their
reputation with the more extreme Islamic elements of society.


Zionists? A Jewish Connection...
---------------------------------
6. (SBU) Forensic evidence linked one of the weapons used in
the attack to the murder of a Jewish dentist in Istanbul last
year. One of the people subsequently arrested as a part of
the ongoing police investigation "confessed" to the murder.
Many Turks here are under the impression that Masons are
"pro-Zionist," a fact bolstered by the large number of
conspiracy theory-style Turkish books on that subject.
Jewish Community Vice President Lina Filiba confirmed the
widespread nature of such impressions. She told poloff the
Masonic lodge bombing (and its link to the murder of a Jewish
dentist) and last year's bombing of two Istanbul synagogues
have underlined a pervasive fear in Turkey's Jewish Community
that, after 50 years of largely avoiding tensions between
Israel and Muslim populations, Turkey's Jews are now being
directly targeted. The fact that the terrorists, fed a
steady diet of misinformation, confused the Masonic Lodge
with a Jewish target is no comfort, Filiba added. Now very
concerned with the physical security of their gathering
places, the Jewish Community leadership is struggling to take
precautions and reduce their exposure to potential attacks.


7. (SBU) Last year's bombings of the synagogues, the British
Consulate, and the HSBC building were a wake-up call for the
Masons as well. Our Turkish Mason contact told us that the
Masons received reports from the police of an anonymous
caller "threatening to attack more Masonic targets" when he
called to claim credit for the British bombings. In response
to this and other threats, the Istanbul police added security
details to their sites, but our contact noted ironically that
because the police worked from "9 to 5," they were never in
position to protect the Masonic temples during the busy
evening periods. Since the latest attacks, however, he
admitted that police security has been provided around the
clock.


8. (SBU) Although the damage from this attack was limited,
our contact was careful to note that news reports of
"incompetence" on the part of "amateur" terrorists were
incorrect. His understanding of the attack (from the police
and from witnesses) was that after shooting the private
security guard, the terrorists entered the large garden
courtyard and opened fire on the glass wall separating the
courtyard from the restaurant. Before they could reach the
restaurant, however, one of the bombs detonated prematurely,
killing one terrorist and incapacitating the other, before
the remainder of the bombs could be manually detonated
(presumably inside the building itself). As a result, the
damage was minimal and only those closest to the courtyard
were injured.


Comment
-------
9. (SBU) Investigations into the attack continue, but early
indications suggest that there was a network of planners and
accomplices (some of whom may have trained in Pakistan and
Afghanistan) and a connection with last year's murder of a
Jewish dentist. Whether there was a connection with last
year's synagogue and British Consulate bombings remains to be
seen. In any case, the Jewish community and the Masons are
convinced that there is a network of local extremists that
remains committed to targeting their communities and anyone
they deem to be working against the interests of Islam.
ARNETT

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