This Day in Jewish History / A Suicide Attack Strikes an Istanbul Synagogue

Twenty-two worshipers were killed in the attack on the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul, Turkey, that has been attributed to arch-terrorist Abu Nidal.

On September 6, 1986, the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul, Turkey, was the object of a suicide terror attack that killed 22 worshipers at Sabbath morning services. Responsibility for the attack, which was undertaken by two terrorists armed with automatic rifles and hand grenades, has always been attributed – at least in part, as evidence pointed to possible state involvement by Libya, Iran and Syria -- to arch-terrorist Abu Nidal.

Abu Nidal (1937-2002) was the nom de guerre of Sabry al-Banna, a Jaffa-born Palestinian whose secular militant organization, the Fatah Revolutionary Council, more commonly known as the Abu Nidal Organization, was formed in 1974, in a split from Yasser Arafat’s Fatah group. Between 1984 and 1987 alone, the ANO was suspected of carrying out 30 terror attacks, most of them in Western Europe, including simultaneous attacks on the El Al counters at the Rome and Vienna airports in 1985, and the attempted hijacking of a Pan Am flight at Karachi Airport on September 5, 1986, the day before the Istanbul massacre.

Because the terrorists – there were apparently two, and they apparently spoke Arabic -- who carried out the synagogue assault blew themselves up with grenades, they were never identified, and so the background of the attack has never been decisively resolved. Neve Shalom, situated in the Karakoy quarter, near Galata Tower, is the largest Sephardi synagogue in Istanbul, and opened in 1951. In the years that followed the 1986 atrocity, it was subject to another two terror attacks: on March 1, 1992, a bomb attack, allegedly carried out by Hezbollah, that left no casualties, and the November 16, 2003, explosions of four car bombs, another of which was directed at the Beit Israel Synagogue. Those attacks collectively killed 67 and wounded 700.