Six Die in Attack on US Post in Turkey

Wednesday, 09 July 2008 12:06 By Alan Cowell and Sebnem Arsu, The New York Times | name.

Six Die in Attack on US Post in Turkey
An Ambulance waits outside the US consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, following an attack on Wednesday. (Photo: Getty Images)

    Paris - A group of unidentified gunmen opened fire on Turkish security guards outside the United States Consulate in Istanbul on Wednesday, the Turkish authorities said, and at least three police officers and three assailants were killed. Officials said that a fourth assailant escaped.

    The late-morning attack was the first on a diplomatic mission in the city since 2003 when 62 people were killed in assaults on the British consulate, a bank and two synagogues. While the motives behind this attack were not immediately clear, Turkish officials described the gunmen as terrorists.

    "Turkey struggles and will struggle against the mentalities that organize and stand behind these attacks until the very end," President Abdullah Gul said in a statement. "Everyone, after all, has seen that nothing can be achieved through terror."

    In a televised news conference, Istanbul's governor, Muammer Guler, said one of the police officers died at the scene after a nearly 10-minute gun battle and two others died of bullet wounds in a hospital. One of the officers was part of the consulate security detail, while the other two were traffic police officers. Another police officer and a tow-truck driver were also wounded.

    "Three policemen were martyred and three attackers were killed," Mr. Guler said. He added later that, while the authorities were waiting for final confirmation of the identity of the assailants, all three were believed to be Turkish citizens. Ross Wilson, the United States ambassador in Turkey, said that none of the dead or injured were Americans.

    The consulate is a heavily fortified building with heavy security measures. Witnesses and news reports said that about 15 minutes before the attack, the three gunmen were seen sitting in a gray car with another man - apparently the driver - that was parked in a carwash shop near the consulate. At about 10:30 a.m., the three, who looked to be between 25 and 30 years old, hopped out of the vehicle, walked up to a police post at the main entrance of the consulate, and opened fire, taking the officers by surprise.

    "One of them approached a policeman while hiding his gun and shot him in the head," a witness, Yazuz Erket Yuksel, said in remarks reported by Reuters.

    In the ensuing clash, two of the officers fired back, killing all three attackers, according to news reports. The authorities said the three men used handguns and a pump action shotgun. Istanbul's chief prosecutor, Aykut Cengiz Engin, told reporters at a televised news conference that "a fourth person coming to the attack site has escaped in the car."

    One witness, Huseyin Tuzemen, was across the street from the consulate when the gunfire erupted.

    "I was sitting at the cafe and there were suddenly some gunshots," he said. "I lay on the ground. I didn't see where the shots came from. I found myself in the fridge" of the cafe, terrified.

    After the attack, crowds of onlookers and the police milled around the 15-foot high walls sheltering the American compound and officers cordoned off the area. A helicopter was seen hovering above. Television footage showed one body lying on the ground.

    From the police post, visitors to the consulate usually clamber up steps to the hilltop building which some people say resembles a fortress.

    The consulate was for many years located in the center of the city in a bustling area near Taksim Square. But, following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it was relocated five years ago to the Istinye area near the Bosporus Straits to be better protected from terrorist attacks.

    Several consular officers were absent from the building at the time of the attack, attending a meeting hosted by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.

    There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which took place on a quiet side street lined with apartment houses. Over the years, Turkey, a close NATO ally of the United States, has been prey to intermittent violence from a range of groups including leftists, extreme right-wingers, Kurdish separatists and Islamic militants. It was not clear why an American target had been singled out at this juncture.

    Turkey is run by a government with strong Islamic roots which is facing a strong challenge from secular groups seeking to outlaw the ruling party led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Its adversaries accuse Mr. Erdogan's party of betraying the secular ideology implanted by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state in the 1920s.

    Last weekend, the Anatolian News Agency reported that two retired generals were jailed in connection with a suspected plot to overthrow Mr. Erdogan's government.

    The two men were the most senior former military officials among 21 people accused of ties to a nationalist network called Ergenekon. But there was no indication that Wednesday's attack on the consular guards was linked to these developments.

    Turkey is also fighting resurgent Kurdish separatism in the remote east of the country.

    In a separate development in eastern Turkey, three German tourists on a climbing expedition to Mount Ararat were kidnapped by Kurdish separatists who seized their hostages as they camped at an altitude of 10,500 feet, the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency reported Wednesday.

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    Susanne Fowler contributed reporting from Paris, and Anahad O'Connor from New York.

Last modified on Wednesday, 09 July 2008 12:43