Istanbul blast without al-Qaeda hallmark?
Wed 10 March, 2004 10:23
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - An attack on Istanbul freemasons has stirred memories of November bombings attributed to al-Qaeda, but analysts say it bares the hallmarks of a small "domestic" group rather than any foreign-backed network.
Suicide bombers struck at a Masonic building in the Asian part of Turkey's biggest city late on Tuesday. One killed himself and a restaurant waiter, the other failed to set off his explosives and was taken to hospital with five other wounded.
"We don't think it is likely this attack was the work of al-Qaeda or Hizbullah," Hurriyet daily quoted an unnamed senior security source as saying, referring to a radical Turkish Islamist group not connected with the Lebanon-based Hizbollah.
"It could have been carried out by inexperienced militants of a newly formed radical religious group... If the bomb had been better made, the whole building could have blown up."
Turkish markets showed little reaction to Tuesday's attack, preferring to focus on slow progress in Cyprus peace talks that could affect Turkey's hopes of joining the European Union.
The lira currency slipped slightly in early trade to about 1,320,000 to the dollar from Tuesday's closing 1,316,500, while stocks were barely changed.
No group has so far claimed responsibility, and security experts were combing the scene for clues on Wednesday.
Last November's attacks targeted two synagogues, the British consulate and a British-owned bank, killing 61 people and wounding 644 in one of the worst spates of peacetime violence in modern Turkish history. Turkish authorities linked those blasts to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.
"I don't see it as the start of a new wave of major terrorist attacks, more a continuation of small-scale activities by domestic Islamist groups," one European diplomat said.
NO CLAIM OF RESPONSIBILITY
Istanbul Governor Muammer Guler told reporters two men had entered a restaurant on the ground floor of the three-storey building shortly after 10 p.m. after firing at the windows and shooting a security guard in the foot.
About 40 people had been eating at the restaurant at the time of the attack, but apart from broken windows the building suffered little damage. Guler said the explosion occurred near the entrance and the wounded were all seated nearby.
Milliyet daily quoted security experts saying the pipe-style bomb was of the kind typically used by another Turkish militant group called IBDA-C (the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders' Front).
IBDA-C surfaced in the mid-1990s with bomb attacks on nightclubs and churches in Istanbul, and claimed responsibility for the November blasts. But many experts doubted they could have pulled off those highly coordinated attacks, even with help from al-Qaeda.
"If it is IBDA-C behind yesterday's attack I don't think it's that surprising," the European diplomat said. "They've said they want to get involved in this kind of war on Western interests. But I haven't seen anything to show they're an official sub-contractor for al-Qaeda."
Freemasonry has long claimed followers in Muslim but secular Turkey among businessmen, academics and politicians, especially in Istanbul, a cosmopolitan city of more than 10 million people. In some other Islamic countries they have been targets of hostility because of Christian links.
Court cases opened recently against 69 people accused of involvement in November's attacks. Five could face life in jail for "trying to change the constitutional order by force", and the rest could face sentences of up to 22-1/2 years.
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