Sun, Nov 23, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Search for bombers stepped up

TRACKING Anti-terrorism experts took up the hunt yesterday as the country put its security forces on high alert following a week of car bombings

AP , ISTANBUL

Relatives of HSBC Bank blast victim Ahmet Dama mourn over his Turkish flag-draped coffin during a funeral ceremony in Istanbul on Friday. Turkey was rocked on Thursday by twin suicide bomb attacks in Istanbul which killed 29 people.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Anti-terrorism police yesterday were tracking down suspects in a crackdown on extremists responsible for a string of deadly terrorist bombings that killed 54 people. At least three groups with purported links to al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Hurriyet newspaper reported yesterday that 18 people were taken into custody late Thursday, just hours after two near-simultaneous attacks on British targets in Istanbul killed 29 people and injured hundreds, many critically. Among the dead were the two presumed suicide bombers who executed the attacks at the British consulate and the Turkish headquarters of London-based HSBC bank.

Investigators have identified the automobile dealership that sold pickup trucks used in the strikes, Hurriyet said without giving further details. The trucks were packed with explosives and then detonated once they reached their targets.

"We have made important strides in the investigation," Justice Minister Cemil Cicek told CNN-Turk television, without elaborating. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul confirmed on Friday that police had made arrests.

The attacks Thursday came just five days after similar truck-bomb strikes against two Istanbul synagogues that killed 23 people, plus two suicide bombers. Six people have been arrested in those attacks, authorities said.

Turkey has placed its security forces on high alert and has ordered its anti-terrorism and intelligence agents to cancel vacations. Foreign governments, including the US and Britain, cautioned that terrorists could strike again and issued travel warnings to their citizens. Britain has sent anti-terrorism investigators to Turkey, and Israeli media reported that Jerusalem also dispatched specialists.

Later yesterday, silent protests were planned for cities across Turkey, including Istanbul and the capital of Ankara. Organized by trade unions and nongovernment organizations, the protests were intended to express sympathy for the victims and indignation over the attacks -- the deadliest peacetime violence here in a generation.

At least one synagogue canceled its Sabbath service yesterday. Funerals for two police officers and a well-known stage actor who died in the attacks were also planned for later in the day. The actor, Kerem Yilmazer, was killed when he stopped his car at a traffic light near the HSBC bank.

Meanwhile, an intelligence report said some Islamic radicals who fought in Chechnya, Afghanistan and Bosnia may have returned to Turkey.

At least three groups or individuals claiming links to al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks, including a small militant Turkish group, the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders' Front.

Another claim came from an alleged al-Qaeda operative, Abu Mohammed al-Ablaj, in a statement sent to the London-based al-Majalla weekly.

He warned of a "big operation" somewhere between the Muslim holidays of Eid el Fitr next week and the Feast of the Sacrifice in January. His e-mail also warned Japan against helping the US in Iraq, warning Tokyo "is the easiest place to destroy."

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