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Multiple Explosions, Two Confirmed, in Istanbul, Turkey

Aired November 20, 2003 - 05:40   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: David Clinch is here to talk more about that end of the story.
DAVID CLINCH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL EDITOR: Well, I think the world we live in right now, terrorist attacks are never a surprise. We've been talking about this this morning since this happened. We don't know who did this and we don't know why, but we do know Secretary Straw from London making it absolutely clear that this has the hallmarks of al Qaeda. It has the hallmarks of international terrorism because the targets are connected to Britain, at least in one case, the consulate is British, HSBC Bank International but headquartered in London. The British, obviously, considering this an attack on their interests.

We talked earlier about how they had indications, and we hear about this all the time, security levels going up, going down. We were told over the last weekend that Britain had indications that al Qaeda might be targeting British targets. They had raised the level of security.

At the time, we were connecting that with President Bush's trip to London and obviously, the security level there in London was obvious. It was not clear at the time whether British targets around the world were what we were talking about, but clearly that is what we are talking about in Istanbul today.

COSTELLO: Yes, and I was just going to say we're trying to get an al Qaeda expert up. We're trying to effort one for our audience right now. But that there were five simultaneous explosions within Turkey at this particular time seems a plan.

CLINCH: Well let me just clarify one point.


CLINCH: We had earlier reports of up to five. There may be up to five. We have confirmed two. So let's -- I mean I need to clarify that. We have confirmed that there was an explosion at the British Consulate and we have confirmed that there was an explosion at the HSBC Bank. There appears to have been, in some cases, double reporting on explosions which also hit...

COSTELLO: Well what about the shopping mall?

CLINCH: Well the shopping mall is near the HSBC Bank. It's possible that we're talking about the same explosion. There may be more than two. We have confirmed two and two targets. COSTELLO: Jack Straw said...

CLINCH: He did.

COSTELLO: He said at least five.

CLINCH: He may very well have been watching CNN earlier when we were saying at least five. That's the information that came out originally. That's the way these things develop. It may very well be five.

COSTELLO: And we know that at least three deaths. Has that been confirmed?

CLINCH: That has been confirmed locally on the ground by Turkish police. And we also know that Jack Straw said that three or four members of staff in the British Consulate had not reported for roll call. That doesn't mean they are dead or injured, they simply have not reported to roll calls. That is being looked into by the British on the ground, the ambassador flying from Istanbul...

COSTELLO: From Ankara.

CLINCH: ... from Ankara to Istanbul to look into the whereabouts of those four.

COSTELLO: And as far as the number of injuries that we know of right now?

CLINCH: We are being quoted dozens on the ground by police on the ground, but no clear number at this point. It's -- obviously ambulances at both locations, the bank, which we're seeing here, and the consulate separately.

Now again, we're looking within the next few hours, secretary -- Foreign Secretary Straw making it absolutely clear that these attacks in Istanbul go at least on the agenda, most likely on the top of the agenda on the talks between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, which are about to happen in London. They then, we are told by Secretary Straw, will comment on these attacks in their joint press conference later this morning, as well, so we'll be looking for that.

COSTELLO: Chris, you still on the phone?

CHRIS KITRINOS, ENGLISH TEACHER IN ISTANBUL: Yes, I can give you some numbers that the Turkish media is reporting now. The Turkish media...

COSTELLO: And where are you -- where are you getting that information, just off the television? Don't tell us right now...


COSTELLO: ... because we don't like to give out information that CNN has not confirmed, but we do appreciate your efforts.

I wanted to ask you, though, you have been living in Turkey for a year, will you leave after this?

KITRINOS: No, I'm not going to leave. My family, of course, is strongly advising me to come back, but I am happy here. I am shocked and outraged that this is -- you know this is our situation right now in Turkey, but I am going to stay right now. This is my home. I have roots here. My life is good here and I have -- I am going to stay.

COSTELLO: How many Americans live in Turkey? I mean...

KITRINOS: I can't give you an exact number. There are many, many foreigners living here. From my associations with my school, I can tell you that we have several Australians, English, American, Canadian, German teachers working for our school. There are many, many foreigners living in Istanbul.

COSTELLO: Thanks, Chris. Can you hold on for just a second, we want to join CNN Turk? We have an English translation for you, just so we can get a sense of what's going on on the streets. Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): A big block of concrete has -- had fallen off from the security guards area and the vehicle, which has been that -- which has exploded, was in that -- near that entrance of that entrance. And one assumes he was aiming towards the entrance of the gate. And one could not see the gate anymore because the whole gate was demolished. And under -- and around the vicinity there were three or four damaged cars.

Now the stock exchange has been closed down and this has influenced the finance markets. Now what we are curious about is will there be a speculative movement towards the U.S. dollar from Turkish lira. I'm at telgrant (ph) now. The central bank has made a statement.

COSTELLO: All right. All right. We're back now with CNN Domestic. And I don't know exactly what we were seeing. Could you determine that?

CLINCH: Well the CNN Turks, our affiliate, our sister network, if you want to put it that way, in Turkey, doing a fantastic job of coverage here. That's how we're able to get these pictures to you so quickly.

But he -- the anchor was actually pointing out some very interesting aspects of this. There are so many different stories folding together here. But Turkey -- even though Turkey is not the target here, apparently, we don't obviously know that for sure yet. But given the fact that we are being told that it's British targets today and that it was Jewish targets the other day, we may be forgetting the fact that this happening in Turkey sends a shock through Turkey's system. Turkey's democratic and economic system is not fragile, but certainly not as strong as some other more western European countries.

COSTELLO: Well here in the United States, we certainly know how everything can become connected after a terrorist attack,... CLINCH: Right. And...

COSTELLO: ... because that happened on September 11.

CLINCH: Right. And from Turkey's point of view, they now find themselves in the midst of this international terrorism which previously they had not experienced. They also find themselves the host of this terrorism, even though the targets are apparently not Turkish. That, though, as the anchor points out, creates a sense of instability. The markets have closed down. They are talking about vulnerability of the currency.

They are also talking, of course, about the fact that the Iraq war is going on right next door to them. They feel vulnerable about that in the first place. Many people in the Middle East have been talking, in Turkey and elsewhere, have been talking about their fear that what we can call terrorism that we are seeing taking place in Iraq now, we have seen three, four, five different incidents in Iraq itself today of bombs, that that terrorism might spill over into the rest of the region.

And of course with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continuing right next door, too, there is an image, at least an impression from the Turkish point of view, that it is spreading in their direction. And that makes them very uncomfortable. So some interesting points beyond the targeting of the British targets and the international side of al Qaeda terrorism, Turkey itself feeling very vulnerable today.

COSTELLO: I can certainly understand. Just from a Joe Citizen point of view, cell phones aren't working, you can see the streets are very chaotic, and I am sure the police are trying to get things organized. And it's very difficult when you have that many injuries at one time.

CLINCH: Agreed, and it also creates that level of confusion, which we were talking about earlier, about exactly how many bombs, exactly how many targets. We have tried to stick to what we have confirmed. We are now going with the confirmation of only two targets being hit, two explosions, one at the HSBC Bank and one at the British Consulate. There may, in fact, have been more. We're going to check on that.

COSTELLO: Is there any way to know how many people were in the British Consulate or we just can't figure that out just yet?

CLINCH: We don't know. But the impression given -- we don't know precisely how many, but the impression given by the Turkish newscast that we're watching is that there was a full staff, if you want to put it that way, that the embassy, the consulate, I should say, was staffed at that time. Exactly how many people, we don't know. And of course over and above that, how many people were English, British...


CLINCH: ... or Turks? And that again brings up the point that in the attacks on Jewish targets the other day, Muslims died. And these attacks today, we have been told already that some of the victims are Turks, Muslims. That again...

COSTELLO: Let me interrupt you for just a second.


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