Thursday November 20, 2003
At least five people were feared dead and more than 100 injured after bombs ripped through two British targets in Istanbul today.
One explosion inflicted serious damage on the British consulate and another destroyed part of the London-based HSBC Bank headquarters. The attacks come just five days after suicide bombers targeted a synagogue in the Turkish city.
Initial reports suggested up to four explosions, but Turkish government spokesman Cemil Cicek confirmed that two explosions had struck the city, killing a total of five people. Three of the dead, including a security guard, were killed at the consulate and the others at the HSBC building.
Hospital sources were quoted on Turkish television as saying that more than 100 people were injured. One report put the number of casualties at 169.
The Turkish TV channel NTV said the explosion at the British consulate, in the Beyoglu district, appeared to have been caused by a suicide truck-bomb. Its footage showed a number of mutilated bodies lying in front of a badly damaged modern office block, thought to be the HSBC building in the Levent district.
Chris Kitrinos, an English teacher who works in a school next door to the consulate, told CNN: "It's total chaos, ambulances can't get to the scene."
In London the Foreign Office had no immediate comment, but the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, condemned the attacks as an "appalling act of terrorism".
Speaking at an impromptu press conference outside 10 Downing Street, Mr Straw said "three of four" employees at the embassy had not reported to the roll call after the blast, which bore "all the hallmarks" of an al-Qaida strike.
He said: "We are obviously making every effort to identify what has happened to those individuals."
HSBC's press office in London had no immediate comment on the blasts. The company has been operating in Turkey for more than 10 years and has 157 branches across the country. The bank declined to say how many staff worked in its Istanbul office.
Turkish officials are linking today's attacks to those that took place on Saturday, when two trucks packed with home-made explosives detonated outside the Beit Israel and Neve Shalom synagogues in Istanbul, killing 25 people and wounding hundreds more.
An al-Qaida unit claimed responsibility for the attacks at the weekend and warned that the Islamist network was planning more attacks against the United States and its allies.
Yesterday, the city's governor identified two Turkish men he said were the synagogue suicide bombers and said their attacks resembled those of the al-Qaida network.
Eight people, already in custody for questioning in connection with Saturday's bombings, have been sent to a state security court, the state-run Anatolian news agency said. They include the owners of the vehicles used in the attacks.
The Foreign Office has set up an emergency contact number for anyone concerned about relatives who may have been caught up in the bombings in Istanbul. The number is 020 7008 0000.