Sixty-two people were killed and more than 700 wounded when two car bombs were detonated outside Istanbul’s Nev Shalom and Beth Israel synagogues on 15 November 2003, and two more outside the British Consulate and the Turkish headquarters of the HSBC bank five days later.
A Turkish group with links to al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the attacks.
At Monday’s fifth hearing in the trial at Istanbul‘s Heavy Criminal Court, prosecutors requested a further deferral, citing the need to revise the indictments due to recent amendments and further changes to be implemented to the Turkish Penal Code, which comes into force on 1 April.
Defence lawyers also requested that the panel of judges free 17 of their clients in line with the judicial reforms. The judges are to consider the requests of both groups of lawyers.
The attack on the Nev Shalom
The case has been dragged out due to delays imposed by a series of changes to Turkish law, including abolishing Turkey‘s State Security Courts, which previously had responsibility for trying crimes against the state, including acts of terrorism. The trial had been frozen last summer as a result of these changes.
Other changes have altered the definition of terrorism and of guilt by association with those suspected of terrorist or criminal activity.
Most of the amendments to the code were prompted by Turkey‘s drive to bring its laws and regulations in line with those of the European Union, part of its campaign to qualify for membership of the bloc.
Again citing judicial reforms, the prosecution also requested that 17 of the defendants be freed from custody and charges dropped.
Among those that prosecutors said should be released was Cemile Aktas, the wife of Habib Aktas, the man Turkey accuses of masterminding the bombing campaign, who was killed in Iraq last year.
Another whose release was sought was Meliha Yildirim, whose husband Gurcan Bac was alleged to have made the bombs.
The trial continues against the
Yildirim’s lawyer told the court that her husband, along with another of the alleged ring leaders in the bombings, Abdulkadir Karakus, had died in fighting against the US-led forces in the Iraqi city of Falluja last month.
The prosecution added that another eight of those charged should be freed, despite alleged evidence that they had received training in al-Qaida camps in other countries.
The application to the court to release the eight was based on another judicial reform enacted by Turkey‘s ruling Justice and Development Party government.
Under the amendments to the Penal Code, the eight could not be considered terrorists without proof of their involvement in criminal activities within Turkey, the prosecution said.
Of the 71 persons charged with involvement in the attacks, only 38 are currently in custody, with another six released on bail.
Most have been charged with being members of an illegal organisation and aiding and abetting the organisation.
Unlike earlier hearings, media interest in the case in Turkey has waned, with far more attention being given to the government’s recent drive against corruption in the energy and medical sectors and Ankara’s displeasure in the success of Iraqi Kurdish groups in that country’s general election.
While most of the suspects are accused of being sympathisers and face lesser penalties if convicted, five of the defendants had previously been charged with life sentence bearing crimes. The case continues.