Second Bomb in Turkey Kills Four, Injures 15
Blasts Occurs Just Days Before Bush's Arrival at NATO Summit
By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 24, 2004; 12:40 PM
ISTANBUL, June 24 -- Small bombs exploded in Turkey's two largest cities Thursday in advance of a huge NATO summit set to convene in Istanbul early next week.
The first was a package bomb left near the entrance of the Ankara hotel where President Bush is expected to spend Saturday night. The explosion mangled the foot of the Turkish police officer who tested its contests with a gentle kick.
A White House spokesman said no changes were planned for Bush's trip.
The second blast killed four people, including the bomber, and injured 15 others aboard a city bus in Istanbul, the site of next week's summit. The bomber, a 20-year-old woman, was said to be a member of a Marxist-Leninist militant organization, according to Muammer Guler, the governor of Istanbul.
Guler said the bomb apparently went off prematurely while being carried to an unknown destination. "It was not a suicide bomb," he said, outside the hospital where the wounded were carried, just half a block from the tree-lined commercial street where the explosion occurred at about 3:50 p.m.
"A woman's body exploded," bus passenger Hatice Cakir was quoted as saying on the Web site of Milliyet newspaper.
The governor did not name the "radical leftist organization" he said was responsible for the Istanbul blast, which he said was caused by a percussion charge; such a charge typically produces a powerful blast wave but no shrapnel.
A group calling itself the Armed Forces of the Poor and the Oppressed, known by the Turkish initials FESK, asserted responsibility for the Ankara blast, according to Turkish news agencies. The group is not well-known but was described as affiliated with the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party. It also claimed responsibility for four small bombs that exploded outside branches of a British bank hours before Prime Minister Tony Blair was due to arrive in Turkey in May.
Bush is due to arrive in Ankara late Saturday for meetings Sunday with elected Turkish leaders. After spending the night at the Hilton Hotel, a high-rise in the diplomatic section of the sprawling capital city, he was scheduled to fly to Istanbul, the country's commercial center, for the summit meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Monday and Tuesday.
In Washington, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush would continue with his trip. "It does appear that these terrorist attacks are intended to disrupt preparations for the upcoming NATO summit, which is a gathering of free nations united in our global fight against terrorism," McClellan said. "In terms of the schedule, nothing has changed."
U.S. security officials were said to be inside the hotel in Ankara at the time of the explosion, which occurred at the foot of steps that lead to a small park near the building. Police began a search of apartment buildings that face the hotel from across the tree-lined block.
"I thought it was thunder, because it was about to rain," Mithat Aksoy, driver waiting in the taxi queue at the hotel entrance, told CNN Turk. "Then I saw smoke on the left.
"There was a foreigner standing there already, helping the policeman. . . . The policeman's feet were torn up, so we tried to stop the blood and we called the ambulance. He was conscious. He said his name was Bekir."
Several fringe radical groups remain active in Turkey, vestiges of a strong leftist movement that battled right-wing forces -- often violently -- in the 1970s. The groups are among a constellation of terrorist threats in Turkey, including Kurdish separatists and, since late last year, Muslim extremists associated with al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda took responsibility for the four car bombs in November that killed more than 60 people in Istanbul.
Security for the summit, which will be attended by heads of state numbering in the dozens, has been noteworthy even by the relatively rigorous standards normal in Turkey, which endured an ethnic Kurdish separatist civil war through the late 1990s. Long before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, made terrorism a preoccupation in North America, Turks were accustomed to passing through metal detectors while entering shopping centers and other public places.
But the four massive car bombs in Istanbul in November abruptly shifted the focus to the threat posed by religious terrorism. The November attacks, which struck Israeli and British targets in the city of 12 million, were attributed to cells funded by al Qaeda.
Turkish authorities last month arrested several Turks said to be plotting an attack on the NATO summit from Bursa, a city about 50 miles south of Istanbul.
The trial of about 60 people charged in the November attacks is scheduled to resume on Monday, the day the summit convenes.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company