Thursday, July 10, 2008

Attack on U.S. Consulate

This news reached me about 11am this morning, but there is not much known at this time. News on NTV is repeating the same thing over and over again. There were rumors that Syrian passports were found on the shooters, but this has been proven as false. From the New York Times:
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 in a brief gun battle. Officials said that a fourth assailant escaped.

The 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 and American officials said they considered it to be an act of terrorism.

“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.”

Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said Wednesday in a briefing, “The United States condemns the terrorist attack that took place on our consulate general in Istanbul earlier today.”

In a televised news conference, Istanbul’s governor, Muammer Guler, said one of the police officers died at the scene 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 wounded were Americans.

Later, the Turkish interior minister, Besir Atalay, said that two of the slain attackers had been identified by their fingerprints. Speaking to the Anatolian News Agency, he identified them as Erkan Kargin, 26, from the eastern town of Bitlis, and Cinar Bulent. Both, he said, had records of petty crime.

The NTV television channel identified a third assailant as Raif Topcil.

Turkish officials said they had the license plate number of the gunmen’s car and were tracing the car’s ownership. Security in the city was tight after the attack.

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 at a car wash near the consulate.

About 10:30 a.m., the three, who looked to be 25 to 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, witnesses said.

“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, hitting all three of the attackers, who the authorities said were armed with handguns and a shotgun. One witness told Reuters that one of the men, after being wounded, shot and killed himself. The others apparently were killed by the policemen.

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.”

Huseyin Tuzemen, another witness, 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 police officers milled around the 15-foot-high walls sheltering the American compound, and officers cordoned off the area. A helicopter was seen hovering above. Televised reports showed one body lying on the ground.

From the police post, visitors to the consulate usually walk 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 near Taksim Square. But after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it was relocated five years ago to the Istinye area near the Bosporus Straits to better protect it from terrorist attacks.

Several consular officers were absent from the building at the time of the attack, attending a meeting run 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.

According to news reports in Istanbul, the authorities said they had found potential links to an organization but would not provide further details. NTV said the authorities were looking at Al Qaeda as a possibility, but there was no confirmation of these reports. Mr. McCormack, when asked about the possibility of Qaeda involvement, said he had no information indicating that Al Qaeda had played a role but nothing to refute the idea, either.

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