Two killed, one injured as suicide bomber strikes US Embassy

An explosion hit the second gate of the US embassy building in Ankara on Friday. Photograph of the suicide bomber Ecevit Şanlı on top left corner. (Photo: İHA, Derya Yetim, Enise Yapar)

February 01, 2013, Friday/ 13:25:00

A suicide bomber detonated an explosive device at the entrance of the US Embassy in Ankara on Friday, killing at least two people, including the assailant, and injuring one.

The explosion struck the security checkpoint at the entrance of the visa section of the embassy and one of the dead was a security guard -- allegedly a Turkish national, according to immediate information by news sources.

Interior Minister Muammer Güler said the assailant was Ecevit Şanlı, a member of the far-left terrorist Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C). According to initial reports, Şanlı had been implicated in a terrorist attack in 1997.

Television footage showed a door blown out and masonry from the wall around it scattered in front of the entrance, although there did not appear to be any more significant structural damage. Police stepped up security around the embassy and cordoned off the area for fear of a possible second attack. Police helicopters were also scanning the area from above.

Didem Tuncay, a journalist with private NTV channel, was injured in the blast. She was taken to a nearby hospital. She was reported to be in life-threatening condition.

The embassy building is heavily protected. It is near an area where several other embassies, including those of Germany and France, are located. Police sealed off the area and journalists were being kept away.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the attack was one of the many that target Turkey's internal peace in his first comments following the blast. He was awaiting a briefing on the explosion and was to make a more detailed statement after the briefingInterior Minister Muammer Güler said the suicide bomber is believed to have been a Turkish citizen. Police were working to establish his identity. He said the bomber, a male, might be a member of a far-left illegal organization. The minister was probably referring to the terrorist Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C).

Police detained nearly 100 DHKP/C members last month, and 55 of them were arrested pending trial on accusations of being members of a terrorist organization. Police seized a large number of documents from the addresses of the suspects, which revealed the group's plans to assassinate politicians, judges, prosecutors and police officers.

The Ankara governor and police department chief rushed to the scene of the explosion to closely coordinate security measures. Governor Alaaddin Yüksel spoke to reporters and confirmed that the attack had been carried out by a suicide bomber. He said the attacker was inside US property when the explosives were detonated.

US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone thanked Turkish security officials for taking rapid security precautions around the embassy building after the attack. He said all required measures have been taken. “I would like to extend my thanks to the Turkish government, the media and members of the public for their expressions of solidarity and outrage over the incident. We are sorry. We hope and pray for the injured to get well soon,” he stated.

Ricciardone also said the attack would not damage Turkish-US ties. “We still see Turkey as a friend of the US and our close cooperation will continue. We all see how much damage both the US and Turkey suffer because of terror,” he noted, and added that he would keep informing the media as embassy officials learned more about details of the attack.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said he was saddened by the attack. “We have always been sensitive about the security of embassy and consulate buildings in our country, and we will maintain our sensitivity,” he stated. The minister also said security officials have begun a large-scale investigation to capture the instigators behind the attack.

Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar condemned the attack and said Turkey would fight terrorism with all its strength. “As the government, we are about to end terrorism. We will end terrorism; let the whole of Turkey learn this. We are about to achieve peace with the support of all citizens,” he added.

“It was a huge explosion. I was sitting in my shop when it happened. I saw what looked like a body part on the ground,” said travel agent Kamiyar Barnos, whose shop window was shattered around 100 meters away from the blast.

Another eyewitness, Ayhan Aydemir, told the media that he saw dead bodies and pieces of flesh around after the blast. “There was a cloud of smoke. I saw dead bodies, an amputated leg and pieces of flesh all around. I saw several injured inside the embassy building. People said one man approached the security checkpoint to ask something and then detonated the bombs he was carrying.”

The Republican People's Party (CHP) condemned the attack. The party's deputy chairman, Faruk Loğoğlu, issued a written statement in which the party denounced the bloody incident. He said the CHP expects the instigators behind the attack to be captured soon. Loğoğlu also said diplomatic mission buildings in Ankara should be protected better.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack.

Far-left groups, far-right groups and separatist terrorists have all carried out attacks in Turkey in the past.

The main domestic security threat comes from the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), considered a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union and Turkey, but the PKK has focused its campaign largely on domestic targets.

Turkey has led calls for international intervention in neighboring Syria and is hosting hundreds of NATO soldiers from the United States, Germany and the Netherlands who are operating a Patriot missile defense system along its border with Syria, hundreds of kilometers away from the capital.

The US Patriots were expected to go active in the coming days.

The most serious attacks of this kind in Turkey occurred in November 2003, when car bombs shattered two synagogues, killing 30 people and wounding 146. Authorities said the attack bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda.

Part of the HSBC Bank headquarters was destroyed and the British Consulate was damaged in two more explosions that killed a further 32 people a week later.