(March 20, 2016 / JNS) Three Israeli tourists, among them two dual Israeli-American citizens, were killed Saturday when a suicide bomber detonated himself on a busy shopping street in the heart of Istanbul, the fourth such attack in Turkey so far this year.
In addition to the three Israelis who were killed, at least 36 people were wounded, among them 11 Israelis. The three murdered Israelis were identified as 60-year-old Simha Dimri, Yonatan Suher, 40, and Avraham Goldman, 69. Dimri’s husband, as well as Suher’s and Goldman’s wives, were all injured in the attack.
The U.S. State Department confirmed that Suher and Goldman were American citizens. The fourth victim killed in the attack was identified by Turkish officials as Iranian national Ali Reza Razmhah.
The blast, which occurred just before 11 a.m. on Saturday, sent panicked shoppers scurrying into side alleys off Istiklal Street, a long pedestrian avenue lined with international stores and foreign consulates. Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said 24 of the wounded were foreigners.
The attack will raise further questions about NATO member Turkey’s ability to protect itself against a spillover of violence from the war in neighboring Syria.
Turkey faces threats from Kurdish militants, whose insurgency has spread from the largely Kurdish southeast and whom Ankara sees as closely linked to a Kurdish militia in Syria, and from Islamic State terrorists, who have also recently targeted Turkey.
Turkish authorities have named two suspects in the attack: 33-year-old Savas Yıldız, who was among four Islamic State members currently being sought in Turkey, and 24-year-old Mehmet Ozturk who appeared on surveillance cameras in the attack.
Yildiz is believed to have been involved in an Islamic State attack that killed more than 100 people at a Kurdish peace rally in the Turkish capital, Ankara, in October. The suicide bomber has been confirmed by DNA tests to be Ozturk.
Five Israelis who were wounded in the attack arrived in Israel early Sunday on two special overnight flights. Four seriously wounded Israelis and another moderately wounded Israeli remain hospitalized in Istanbul under the supervision of Israeli emergency medical personnel. Another flight was expected to arrive in Israel on Sunday carrying any of the wounded deemed stable enough to be transported. Among the five were Inbal Marom-Suher, whose husband Yonatan was killed, and Avi Dimri, whose wife Simha was also killed.
The bodies of the three Israelis fatalities were expected to be repatriated on Sunday. All of the Israeli victims of Saturday’s attack were on an organized culinary tour of Turkey.
A birthday gift ends in tragedy
Yonatan Suher, from Kibbutz Kvutzat Shiller in central Israel, had been given the culinary vacation as a 40th birthday present by his wife. The couple, who has two children, were together when the blast occurred. Suher was killed instantly, and his wife was taken to an Istanbul hospital for emergency surgery.
Her family and friends have traveled to Turkey to support her and care for her.
“We’ve suffered a serious blow,” a friend said. “At first we were still hopeful, but as the hours passed we realized that nothing good could come out of all this.”
Suher was known as “the first great-grandchild” born in Kvutzat Shiller. He served in the military police during his mandatory service, received a degree in law and later worked in high-tech. He and his family lived in Tel Aviv.
The couple’s families thanked the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Magen David Adom emergency response organization “for all the help we have received so far.” They also asked the media to respect their privacy.
Simha Dimri, a resident of the southern Israeli town of Dimona, was a mother of four and a grandmother of several grandchildren. She had traveled to Turkey with her husband Avi, 57, who was moderately injured in his legs and a lung in the attack. One of the couple’s three sons, Yohai, has traveled to Turkey to support his father.
According to a family member, Avi Dimri said that moments before the blast he had stopped to take a picture of a storefront for his daughter, and was several feet away from his wife. He said that after the explosion he could not find his wife because of the dust and the smoke.
The family’s neighbors in Dimona said the city was stunned by Simha Dimri’s death.
“The Dimri family is well known in town,” said a neighbor. “They own multiple local businesses and they are very active in Dimona. They are a very respectable family that contributes greatly to the community. This is truly a terrible loss.”
Dimona Mayor Beni Bitton said that “the city mourns and shares the Dimri family’s grief. The family is well known for its contributions to the poor.”
The third Israeli victim, Avraham Goldman from Ramat Hasharon, had traveled to Turkey with his wife, Nitza. A friend said the couple often traveled abroad both because “they love culture and food,” and also to visit their daughter and five grandchildren, who live in Florida.
The friend said Goldman had worked as a tour guide across Israel. He said people had called Goldman crazy for guiding tours of Jerusalem and the Old City during the recent escalation in terrorist violence, “but he would always explain that he had a cutting board in his backpack and if anyone tried to stab him, the cutting board would block the knife.”
Thanks to his fluent English, Goldman often accompanied VIPs visiting Israel. One of them was former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who wrote him a thank-you letter.
“He traveled to Turkey with his wife; her birthday was just a few days ago,” said another friend. “He told me he was going and we talked about his concerns. Avi was a very responsible man. There was no travel warning, but as someone who travels around the world a lot, he knew that the way things appear and sound abroad don’t always reflect reality. He didn’t cancel the trip, unfortunately. They had a choice between staying home and not staying home. They chose life.”
Goldman is survived by his wife, three children, and eight grandchildren.