Turkey's geographical, political and religious position as a bridge between the west and Middle East made it a prime target for international terrorists. Observers had for months warned of attacks as a matter of when, not if. Their dire predictions came true on Thursday when dozens of people were killed and hundreds injured in the bombing of the HSBC headquarters and British Embassy in Istanbul. Five days earlier, 25 people were killed in two similar attacks on synagogues in the city. But while experts anticipated the attacks, and even pinpointed al-Qaeda-linked militants or Kurdish separatists as the perpetrators, pinpointing the reason was less obvious. Turkey is a terrorist target for any number of reasons - more than Bali, Morocco, Saudi Arabia or the United States and its coalition allies in Iraq. In that respect, the nation lives up to its image as an anomaly, meaning different things to different people. Most often cited, though, is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's co-operation with the US in its war on terrorism. From a stint heading the multinational peacekeeping force in Afghanistan to a promise - later withdrawn - to send troops to Iraq, he has been under fire from Muslim extremists for being too close to the nation they perceive as the enemy. The irony is that the charismatic Mr Erdogan is widely seen as a hardline Islamist - a claim he denies. When his party took power in November last year, he was unable to take the prime ministership because he had served time in prison for his religious beliefs, which contravened the secular constitution. His popularity forced a swift change of election rules and he took the position in March as the invasion of Iraq loomed. Despite Turkey's co-operation in Afghanistan - which provides 163 soldiers to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation-led peacekeeping force - the government rejected the use of its military bases by allied forces for the battle to overthrow Iraq's president Saddam Hussein. Although Turkey is Muslim majority, successive governments have struggled with religion. They have worried that they are straying from the secular principles enshrined in law by the founding father of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, soon after its creation in 1923. The country's Arab neighbours have long been mindful of its friendly relations with Israel. It was the first Muslim nation to recognise the Jewish state after its carving out of Palestinian lands in 1948, and the two countries have since built strong commercial and military ties. Such links were blamed for the synagogue blasts earlier this week and similar attacks in the 1990s and 1980s. Relations with Christian-majority Europe have also been of concern to the Islamic world. Turkey joined Nato in 1952, and is eager to become a member of the European Union. Membership has been promised when it meets legal and economic standards. Then there is the Kurdish question - a troublesome hangover for the Middle East from the carving up of the Ottoman Empire by Britain and France after the first world war. Turkey and Iraq are at the centre of the struggle by ethnic Kurds for the homeland they lost through the careless decisions of the colonial powers. In 1984, the Kurdistan Workers' Party - also known as the PKK and since April last year the Kadek, the Kurdistan Freedom and Democratic Congress - escalated the conflict into a terrorist campaign. The group's leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was arrested and has been imprisoned since February 1999, and a unilateral ceasefire has been in place since the following September. But the group still has about 5,000 armed fighters, mostly in northern Iraq, and the battle for an independent Kurdistan, also including parts of Turkey, Syria and Iran, continues to be their demand. Finally, there is the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Turkey intervened militarily in 1974 to protect Turkish Cypriots from a threatened takeover by Greece. Turkish Cypriots control 37 per cent of the island and although long-strained relations have eased in recent years, disagreements persist over such issues as compensation for property taken from Greek Cypriots when Cyprus was divided. With so many conflicts and anomalies, it is not surprising that analysts in Turkey, and internationally, viewed the country as a prime target for terrorists. Researcher with the Turkey Project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Baris Ornarli, said yesterday the Arab and Muslim worlds had long viewed Turkey with suspicion. Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organisations - mostly domestic - had in the past tried to overthrow the government. 'Turkey is 98 per cent Muslim, yet still strictly adheres to secular and democratic principles,' Mr Ornarli said. 'It fancies itself as a member of the western family of nations, so naturally the religious far-right, extremists and terrorists among them, in the past targeted the country.' This week's attacks, though, appeared to have a foreign influence. Al-Qaeda, founded by Saudi Arabian-born Islamist Osama bin Laden, and a Turkish terrorist group had claimed responsibility for the synagogue attacks. The researcher suggested the attack of British targets in Istanbul could be seen as retribution for the western European country's closeness to Turkey through organisations such as Nato. More likely, though, were Britain's ties to the US. 'All of these attacks eventually go back to the US and the ongoing realities of the world across the globe,' Mr Ornarli concluded. 'The attacks this week were just another battle in the war on terror.' Turkey had been a strong supporter of the US-led war on terrorism because it had been a target in the past of Kurdish and other domestic extremists. For this reason, it had taken over from Britain to head the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan last year. Middle East expert Robert Olson believed an ideological movement aligned to al-Qaeda was behind the attacks. Such groups had evolved because of American destabilisation of the Middle East, he said. 'Many academics believe that Israel is the central point for the war and this is very much avoided by the American public and generally in Britain,' Dr Olson, a professor of Middle East history and politics at the University of Kentucky, said. 'American neo-conservatives in President George W. Bush's administration wanted to make sure there was no challenge to Israel in the future.' Terrorism experts share the sentiment. The director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, Magnus Ranstorp, said the US was clearly aggravating the Arab and Muslim worlds through its actions in Iraq and decades-long military and economic support of Israel. But human development reports of the Middle East also showed Arab nations faced major economic, political and demographic challenges, which the developed world could not ignore. 'There are few options but to get involved in the area,' Dr Ranstorp said. 'Non-US, non-British involvement is not going to lead to less terrorism.' Turkey, caught between western pressure to help change its regional neighbourhood and from Muslim extremists not to, faces a seemingly unsolvable dilemma. This week's devastating terrorist attacks serve to highlight its unenviable position.