7 Get Life in '03 Istanbul Bombings

The Associated Press
Friday, February 16, 2007; 4:12 PM

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- A Turkish court on Friday sentenced seven suspected al-Qaida militants to life in prison for a pair of 2003 suicide bombings in Istanbul that killed 58 people _ attacks prosecutors said were ordered by Osama bin Laden.

The defendants, including Syrian Loa'i Mohammad Haj Bakr al-Saqa, were among 74 suspects standing trial in the attacks, which targeted two synagogues, the British consulate and a London-based bank.

The court acquitted 26 of the defendants, while sentencing the rest to prison terms ranging from three years and nine months to 18 years.

Al-Saqa, who was charged with masterminding the bombings, called on holy warriors to keep up their fight, declaring during final arguments Friday that "Victory is very near!"

"Hey my hero brothers! Do not worry for me. Victory is very near!" he said in a brief statement to court.

"Beware, beware, don't give up for any reason!" he said, and also recited verses from the Quran.

Prosecutors said bin Laden personally ordered al-Saqa to organize the plot, even though some suspects have testified that al-Qaida was unhappy that the group abandoned an initial plan to attack a base used by the U.S. Air Force, and instead went after targets that involved killing Muslims.

Along with al-Saqa, the court handed life sentences to Harun Ilhan, who has taken responsibility for the bombings, Fevzi Yitiz, who helped build the truck bombs, and Yusuf Polat, who gave the final go-ahead for the synagogue attacks, as well as other leading defendants Baki Yigit, Osman Eken and Adnan Ersoz.

Ersoz had admitted receiving weapons training in Afghanistan and fighting with Islamic militants in Chechnya.

In his closing arguments, Ilhan criticized Turkey's secular system and expressed hope for the establishment of an Islamic state.

"We know that one day this regime will crumble and an Islamic regime will be established," he said. Turkey's government has Islamic roots, but its leaders are moderate and the powerful military is viewed as a champion of secular rule.

"Before the day comes that you wish you were Muslims... I invite you to become Muslims," Ilhan said in his address, reflecting his belief that most Turks are not devout followers of Islam.

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