Gunmen attack U.S. consulate in Turkey, leaving six dead
Thursday, July 10, 2008
ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Gunmen believed inspired by al-Qaida stormed a guard post outside the U.S. consulate Wednesday, touching off a deadly firefight that underscored Turkey's difficulty in clamping down on homegrown militants. Three assailants and three police officers were killed in the blitz-style assault.
The bearded gunmen emerged from a car and shot a traffic officer dead, then swarmed the guard quarters at the entrance to the consulate, where two policemen were killed, according to security video. Officers fired back, killing three of the assailants -- all Turks -- as bystanders fled for cover and at least one attacker escaped in the car.
While an officer said police suspected the armed men were linked to al-Qaida, the gunslinger attack did not match the terror group's hallmarks, such as coordinated attacks by suicide bombers that cause mass casualties.
The suspects, however, may have been inspired by al-Qaida ideology without the capability to carry out more sophisticated attacks. The police officer in Istanbul spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
At least one assailant escaped in the car. No staff at the consulate, a relatively new building perched on a hill and surrounded by high walls, were hurt, U.S. ambassador Ross Wilson said.
The attack sent people who had been waiting for visas running into shops and cafes across from the consulate, an eyewitness said. After the attack, bullet holes dotted three sides of the concrete-brick guard post.
Wilson and Istanbul's governor branded the assault a terrorist attack. Security around all U.S. diplomatic missions in Turkey was immediately increased, and the consulate canceled visa interviews for today.
Turkish authorities have been increasingly targeting suspected Islamic militants since al-Qaida-linked suicide bombers killed 58 people in 2003 by targeting two synagogues, the British consulate and a British bank in Istanbul.
Turkey has also been cracking down on both ultranationalists who have attacked Christians and on Kurdish rebels, two groups it deems a threat to the country's security.
"Turkey is a fertile ground which is nourishing militants from almost every ideology -- from radical Islamic ones to leftist and ultranationalist ones," said Nihat Ali Ozcan of the Economic Policy Research Institute in Ankara.
"It is difficult to contain them, and it is even more difficult to prevent terrorist attacks," he said.
The attack also comes amid heightened tensions between the Islamic-oriented Turkish government and secular circles backed by the military, with the ruling party facing a legal effort to close it down. The United States has expressed support for government-led democratic reforms in Turkey, but has been careful not to take a side in the dispute.
NTV television and Dogan news agency identified the attackers as Erkan Kargin, 26, and Raif Topcil, 20, from the southeastern city of Bitlis and Bulent Cinar, 23, from the eastern city of Igdir. Police would not confirm their identities, but Interior Minister Besir Atalay said two of the assailants had criminal records.