Blasts weck british consulate and bank
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WRAPUP 1-Blasts shake Istanbul, 25 dead
Reuters, 11.20.03, 8:41 AM ET
By Daren Butler
ISTANBUL, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Twin blasts killed at least 25 people in Istanbul on Thursday, wrecking the British consulate and the HSBC Bank headquarters in an apparent Islamist suicide strike that Turkey called a strike against British interests.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the chief U.S. ally in military operations against Iraq, told a news conference with visiting president George W. Bush that the "terrorist outrage" showed democracy was fighting a war against evil.
"Its main battleground is Iraq," he said.
Men and women wept outside the consulate amid a chaos of wrecked cars and rubble, their clothes blood-stained, nursing wounds.
The Istanbul governor said 25 people had been killed, including 14 at the British consulate. A health official said 390 people were wounded.
A caller to Turkey's semi-official Anatolian news agency claimed responsibility in the name of a Turkish group and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, which Washington blames for the September 11 U.S. attacks.
The two blasts -- five days after the bombing of two Istanbul synagogues that killed 25 -- echoed over streets crowded with pedestrians and cars within minutes of each other, sending black smoke rising over the blue skies above the city.
The first of Thursday's blasts hit a wide avenue in the financial district, flanked by the towering HSBC building and a popular new glass-fronted shopping mall. The target of the second, the consulate, was set in a narrow street of older stone buildings in an area brimming with shops, bars and restaurants.
Bush expressed grief over the attacks. "Great Britain and America and other free nations are united...in our determination to fight and defeat this evil wherever it is found."
Turkey is one of Washington's closest political and military allies in the Muslim world -- a relationship that singles it out as a possible target for Islamist militants. Its government has Islamist roots but its policies are strongly pro-Western.
Hakan Kozan, 29, said he saw a white truck speeding towards the consulate around 10 seconds before the explosion.
"There was a great blast, massive blast," Kozan said.
The attacks shocked world markets, raising fears of more sustained and frequent attacks. European stocks sank and gold, seen as a relatively risk free investment in times of uncertainty, firmed.
HALLMARKS OF AL QAEDA
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the strikes bore "all the hallmarks of the international terrorism operations practised by al Qaeda and associated organisations".
Britons, Turks and other nationalities were among the dead. Media reports said consul-general Roger Short was among the missing, but there was no independent confirmation.
Turkey's interior minister said he saw a connection with the weekend synagogue attacks. A caller to Anatolian agency claimed responsibility on behalf of al Qaeda and a Turkish group known as the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders Front (IBDA-C) and linked to Saturday's bombings.
A Reuters correspondent saw what appeared to be the remains of a human torso on the road about two streets, or 250 metres (yards), away from the HSBC building at the centre of the blast.
Firefighters worked to put out a fire inside the 12-storey building, charred and black from the explosion. Twisted pieces of cars and broken glass lay across the street outside.
"The windows just exploded, everything exploded," said one banker who worked in the HSBC building.
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Turkey would not bow to terror. "We will continue our fight against terrorism," he told reporters in Stockholm. "This time it was British, last week it was two synagogues."
There was no explicit link between Bush's visit to Britain and the blasts on Thursday and Saturday. But intelligence officials have long feared militants could launch attacks on "soft targets" in countries such as Turkey.
On Saturday, two trucks packed with homemade explosives detonated outside the Beit Israel and Neve Shalom synagogues in Istanbul, killing 25 people and wounding hundreds more.
A unit of al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the Saturday attacks and warned that the Islamist network was planning more attacks against the United States and its allies.
Istanbul, Turkey's commercial capital, is a city of some 12 million people divided by the Bosphorus Strait into European and Asian sectors.
Washington has long promoted Turkey as a model Islamic democracy that could be emulated by other Muslim countries.
The attacks could deal a tremendous blow to a Turkish economy struggling with recession and facing huge debt repayments over the next year. A tenuous return of foreign investment could be put at risk by any atmosphere of danger.
The Istanbul stock exchange was closed after the explosions, but not before the stock index had dived 7.37 percent amid panic sales. Banks ceased quotes on the Turkish interbank foreign exchange market.
Copyright 2003, Reuters News Service