Monday, July 28, 2008

İstanbul Shook by Deadly Bomb Attacks


Two bombs were detonated last night in İstanbul's Güngören district, a shopping and residential neighborhood that is relatively quiet. So far, 16 people have died and over 70 were left wounded, many critically. The timing of the bombings was particularly destructive and well-orchestrated, as the first bombing brought many people to the aid of victims before the second and apparently larger bomb exploded. No group has claimed responsibility, although many are on edge since the attack follows last week's attack on the U.S. Consulate and comes amidst revelations about the Ergenekon organization. The bombings also occur before the Constitutional Court is to rule whether to close AKP.

Unlike past bombings, this attack targeted Turkish citizens and not tourists or foreign targets. Most disconcerting, the attack was clearly designed to kill as many civilians as possible, a modus operandi somewhat different than past bombings perpetrated by the PKK and homegrown Islamist groups. Many newspapers here have already pointed fingers at the PKK, although the group has denied they have any involvement in the attack. İstanbul Governor Muammer Güler also suggested that there seemed to be a link between this bombing and past PKK bombings. It should here be noted that it is not so easy to blame the bombing squarely on the PKK, as the main Kurdish terrorist organization responsible for such violent attacks on civilians are the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK). (No one is sure just how close the PKK is to TAK.) While the PKK has yet to renounce violence, it has also not targeted Turkish civilians on a large-scale. If this bombing is indeed the work of the PKK or PKK-affilated organizations, it is serious cause for concern. Al-Qa'ida is also a very real possibility, as is involvement by paramilitarists like those accused of being part of the Ergenekon gang (at which the pro-AKP press is also pointing fingers). So, the question that bears most heavily is just who is responsible for this tragedy.

From the New York Times:
Two bombs exploded within minutes of each other late Sunday in a crowded pedestrian area of Istanbul, killing at least 16 people and wounding more than 150 in what the city’s governor called a terrorist attack.

The double bombing appeared to be the worst case of terrorist violence in Turkey in nearly five years and seemed to take the Turkish authorities by surprise. There were no immediate claims of responsibility, although Kurdish separatist militants were initially suspected.

Residents in buildings near the explosion sites hung Turkish flags from their windows and balconies in reaction to rumors that the separatists were responsible.

There was no obvious reason the Istanbul neighborhood that was bombed, which is almost completely residential, had been the object of a terrorism plot.

The first blast, which the police and witnesses said was relatively minor, attracted scores of onlookers curious about the commotion, with at least some of them thinking it was caused by a gas leak explosion. Many of the onlookers were then hit by flying shrapnel and debris in the second, more powerful blast about 10 minutes after the first and about 20 yards away, the governor of Istanbul, Muammer Guler, said in a news briefing broadcast by Turkish television.

Witnesses described a scene of panic with victims lying on the street in pools of blood. The bombings seemed timed to exploit the summer pastime of many residents of the pedestrian area of Gungoren, in central Istanbul, to stroll in the cool late evening before going to bed.

“It’s surely a terror attack, there’s no doubt,” Governor Guler said. “Because people were gathered after the first explosion, and because the second explosion happened right after, people sitting right across got severely injured.”

Senol Simsek, a witness who provided first aid to the wounded, told the NTV television network that he had seen at least five people lying and writhing near a telephone booth that was destroyed. The police quickly sealed off the entire area and closed it to all traffic.

Hayati Yazici, deputy prime minister who happened to be visiting Istanbul on Sunday, visited the bombing site and told the Anatolian News Agency: “It is obvious that this is the work of a villain organization, a person or people, however it is not certain as to who this is. Our friends are investigating, it will be discovered for sure.”

The double bombing appeared to be the most serious terrorist attack here since twin truck bombings at two Istanbul synagogues killed 23 people and wounded more than 300 on Nov. 15, 2003. An obscure group linked to Al Qaeda took responsibility for the synagogue blasts, which were the worst in a series of explosions blamed on Islamic extremist groups that year that killed more than 60 people.

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