Last Updated: July 10. 2008 12:20AM UAE / July 9. 2008 8:20PM GMT
Police cordon off the US Consulate in Istanbul, where three policemen and three gunmen were killed in an armed attack.
ISTANBUL // Four assailants carrying pistols and pump guns attacked a police post in front of the heavily protected US consulate in Istanbul yesterday morning, killing three policemen before three of the attackers were killed and one escaped.
Investigators quoted by Turkish media said the attack may have been an attempt by Islamic militants to drive a vehicle laden with explosives into the consulate building.
It was the most serious incident involving a diplomatic mission in Turkey since a series of bombings left 62 dead in 2003.“They knew they were not going to get in,” Muammer Guler, the governor of Istanbul province, told reporters hours after the gunfight, which started at about 10.30am and lasted for about two minutes.
Authorities and witnesses on the scene said at least three of the four men stepped out of either a grey or white Ford Focus in front of the consulate in Istinye, a district in the European, or western, side of Istanbul.
They went straight to a police post outside the main gate of the consulate and opened fire on the policemen on duty.“They shot one policeman in the head,” a witness told Turkish television. Other policemen shot back, killing three attackers.
The fourth assailant fled in the car, the state prosecutor, Aykut Cengiz Engin, said. He described the attackers as between 25 and 30 years old.News reports said police in helicopters looked for the car in Sariyer, a district close to Istinye.
Mr Guler said police were studying pictures from traffic cameras. Footage from a security camera showed four armed and bearded men emerging from a car and killing a traffic policeman, then running toward a guard post 50 yards away as other policemen fired back, the Dogan news agency reported.
Officials said one policeman died at the scene, while the two others died in a nearby hospital. Two more policemen were wounded in the shooting. Turkish media said police had identified the three dead gunmen as Raif Topcil, Bulent Cinar and Erkan Kargin. All were Turkish citizens. Television stations had earlier reported one attacker carried a Syrian passport.The attackers had been trained in Afghanistan in recent years, officials were quoted as saying.
By last night, the attack was widely being attributed to al Qa’eda. Police believe the car was stuffed with explosives.“Turkey will fight against those who masterminded such acts and the mentality behind it till the end,” said Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s president, in a televised statement.
“Everybody has already seen terrorism would not serve anything.”The attack is the latest in a string of bombings and shootings in Turkey in recent years attributed to various groups including Kurdish separatists, leftist groups, right wing groups and al Qa’eda.
In 2004 a visit by George W Bush, the US president, sparked a series of attempted attacks. In one incident, four people died in an explosion on a bus in Istanbul; a leftist group said one of its members was carrying a bomb to attack US interests and it exploded prematurely.Security measures at western embassies and consulates in Turkey had been stepped up after militants killed more than 60 people in four attacks on the British consulate in Istanbul, a branch of the British bank HSBC and two synagogues in the autumn of 2003.
The British consul was killed in the attacks, which were the deadliest terrorist attacks in Turkey.The US consulate in Istinye, which opened in June 2003, is heavily fortified and surrounded by security gates and a high wall.The consulate was moved there after diplomatic missions around the world stepped up security following the Sept 11 2001 attacks in the US.Even if the attackers had succeeded in getting past the Turkish guards, it would have been almost impossible for four men to successfully attack the consulate building with light weapons, police said.