By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Turkey bolstered security at U.S. diplomatic installations across the country Wednesday after men armed with a pump-action shotgun and pistols shot and killed three Turkish policemen outside the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, officials said.
Turkish police killed three gunmen in a five-minute gun battle that ensued. Turkish Interior Minister Besir Atalay said authorities were looking for a fourth man, who had driven the others to the consulate and might have been wounded as he drove away from the scene.
The attack was "an obvious act of terrorism," U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson said at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey's capital.
The assault targeted police at a guard post at the entrance to the consulate, which is behind high, white walls on a steep hill that overlooks the Bosporus in the distance. The four attackers drove up with their weapons out of sight, near applicants standing in line for U.S. visas and customers chatting in cafes, witnesses said.
A surveillance camera recorded one of the men climbing out of the car and shooting a traffic policeman about 50 yards from the guard post, Turkey's Dogan news agency said. The attacker's gun was concealed until he raised it to shoot the traffic officer in the head, bystander Yavuz Erkut Yuksel told CNN-Turk television.
The gunmen ran toward the guard post, fatally shooting a Turkish security officer at the consulate and another traffic officer.
Two Turkish security officers fired back, killing all of the gunmen.
Witnesses told news agencies and Turkish television that bystanders rolled under cars and threw themselves on top of their children to protect them. One man climbed inside a refrigerator at a coffee shop.
After the attack, the police officers' bodies lay sprawled on the curb outside the consulate.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was "greatly saddened by the martyrdom of our three police officers in a terrorist attack."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thanked Turkey for what was "clearly a very rapid and proper response from the government to deal with the security situation in front of our consulate."
Atalay, the interior minister, said that there was no assertion of responsibility by late Wednesday and that all the attackers were Turkish nationals.
The attack was the first on a diplomatic target in Istanbul since 2003, when al-Qaeda detonated bombs outside the British Consulate and British HSBC bank five days after bombings outside two synagogues. More than 60 people died in those attacks.
Turks have been uneasy since the recent arrests of 21 people, including two former generals, accused of plotting to overthrow the country's Islamic-oriented government. Authorities have released few details of the alleged plot, but newspapers close to the government have reported that the plan focused on carrying out violent attacks as a pretext for an army coup.
Separately, a governor in eastern Turkey said Wednesday that Kurdish separatist rebels had kidnapped three German mountain climbers. The abduction was an unusual tactic for the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has been battling Turkish forces since the 1980s.