A central figure in the suicide bombing of an Istanbul synagogue was captured while trying to slip into Iran, police said Saturday. He was charged with trying to overthrow Turkey’s “constitutional order” -- an offense equivalent to treason and punishable by life in prison.
The suspect, whose name was not released, is believed to have given the order to carry out the Nov. 15 truck bombing of the Beth Israel Synagogue -- one of four suicide attacks that killed 61 people in Turkey this month, Istanbul Deputy Police Chief Halil Yilmaz said.
He is the first major figure charged in connection with the bombings at two synagogues, the British Consulate and London-based HSBC bank in Istanbul. Authorities didn’t specify his alleged role in the plot or how many others they believed were involved.
Authorities arrested the man Tuesday at the Gurbulak crossing in eastern Agri province, which borders Iran.
A court charged him Saturday with attempting to overthrow Turkey’s constitutional order by force. Authorities have charged 20 other people for lesser roles in connection to the bombings.
“It is understood that the arrested person carried out intelligence gathering on Beth Israel Synagogue before the attack, went to the location with other accomplices on the day of the attack and ordered the start of the attack,” Yilmaz said.
The synagogue bombings killed 29 people and the consulate and HSBC attacks killed 32. The death toll includes four suicide bombers, who authorities said were Turks.
Police arrested the suspect in the Beth Israel attack after receiving a tip that he planned to flee the country with false documents, Yilmaz said.
On Saturday, television footage showed police escorting the man in handcuffs and a blue police flak jacket to the synagogue site. There he described the attack to an inspector, occasionally turning to point at a street or the wreckage of the synagogue as an officer filmed him.
Turkish police routinely take suspects to crime scenes seeking confessions, though authorities did not say whether they were successful in this case.
Previously, a person charged with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order by force might have faced the death penalty. But Turkey abolished capital punishment as part of its reforms intended to improve the nation’s chances of being accepted into the European Union.
Western and Turkish officials said the suicide attacks bore the hallmarks of Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist network. Newspapers have said some of the bombers might have been trained at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan or Iran.
In the past, authorities have accused Tehran of backing radical Islamic groups in Turkey and alleged that members of such a group suspected in a series of killings had trained in Iran and received support from its government.
Turkish authorities have identified the synagogue suicide bombers as Mesut Cabuk, 29, and Gokhan Elaltuntas, 22.