Terrorists Target British Interests in Istanbul

July 7, 2008 - 8:14 PM

(3rd Add: Updates include increased death toll, death of consul-general, statement from bank and foreign secretary travelling to bomb site.)

London (CNSNews.com) - For the second time in less than a week, terrorist explosions rocked the Turkish city of Istanbul, this time killing at least 26 people and wounding more than 300, press reports said.

The British consulate in Istanbul and the local headquarters of the London-based HSBC Bank were among the targets - apparently chosen to send a message at a time when President Bush is visiting London.

Among the dead was Britain's top diplomat in the city, Consul-General Roger Short. Reports said 14 consulate employees died in the bombings.

Thursday's apparent suicide attacks follow two terrorist strikes outside Jewish synagogues in Istanbul on Saturday.

One eyewitness to the consulate blast said he saw a small brown truck pull up in front of a wall surrounding the building and blow up.

"As soon as I saw the lorry [truck], an explosion occurred," the eyewitness told CNN Turk in a broadcast that was translated simultaneously for viewers elsewhere.

Erik Schechter, a Jerusalem Post journalist who is in Turkey to follow up on the synagogue bombings, was interviewed on Israel Radio.

"The situation seems to be under control," Schechter said two hours after the blast. "The general feeling was one of shock...as expected in a bombing like this."

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair condemned the attack during a joint news conference in London.

"Today, the fanatics of terror showed themselves to be callous, brutal murders of the innocent," Blair said.

"This terrorism is the 21st century threat," Blair said. "There is only one response that is possible or rational: to meet their will to inflict terror with a greater will to defeat it."

Bush extended his condolences to the families of the victims.

"The nature of the terrorist enemy is evident once again. We see their contempt, their utter contempt for innocent life," Bush said.

"Together, Great Britain and the United States met the defining challenges of the last century. Together, we're meeting new challenges, challenges that have come to our generation," Bush added.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that the attack bore hallmarks of an al Qaeda operation.

"At this stage, we cannot say for certain who has been responsible for this appalling act of terrorism in Istanbul, which comes on top of the savage outrage against Jewish and Muslim people in Istanbul last Saturday," Straw said.

"But I'm afraid to say it has all the hallmarks of the international terrorism practiced by al Qaeda and the associated organizations," Straw said.

"It re-emphasizes the central message of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair and all other world leaders about the fact that we face a very serious threat of international terrorism and that the whole of the international community has to understand and accept its responsibilities for dealing with it," Straw added.

Straw later told the House of Commons that an unspecified number of British and Turkish citizens had died in the attack.

"These attacks are an affront to democracy and to the entire civilized world. They are an affront to people of every faith and religion in the world," Straw said in an emergency statement.

The foreign secretary was en route to Turkey on Thursday night, reports said.

British authorities have reportedly been on a heightened state of alert during President Bush's trip to London, but a Foreign Office spokesman declined to say whether the attacks were connected to current alert levels.

London's Metropolitan Police Department, which has a special anti-terror branch, said it would be sending officers to Istanbul to aid the investigation.

Turkish Justice Minister Cemil Cicek said the blasts were similar to those in front of two synagogues on Saturday, in which 25 people were killed.

"In our struggle against terrorism, Turkey has to make new efforts," Cicek said.

HSBC said two of its buildings in the city were damaged and that it was still working to account for its staff.

"At this stage, it is clear that a number of our colleagues have been injured, and some may have lost their lives," the company said in a statement "We await clear details from Istanbul."

Stephen Green, the bank's chief executive, said HSBC would remain "totally committed" to its business in Turkey.

"There is absolutely no question of HSBC withdrawing from Turkey," Green said. "We intend to open for business as normal tomorrow."

Reports said a caller to Turkey's semi-official Anatolian news agency claimed responsibility for the attacks in the name of al Qaeda and a small Turkish Islamist group, the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders Front (IBDA-C).

(CNSNews.com's Julie Stahl and Susan Jones contributed to this report.)

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