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Several Near Simultaneous Blasts in Istanbul

Aired November 20, 2003 - 07:06   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get back to Turkey now, the terror attacks there.
On the phone now is Ahu Ozyurt. He is a reporter for CNN Turk, and he joins us by phone from Istanbul.

Ahu -- oh, I'm sorry. Ahu, thanks for joining us this morning.

And give me a sense of what the latest is right now. We've been obviously concerned that the numbers of dead will rise as they are able to confirm that more people have not survived this blast. What do you know?

AHU OZYURT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As far as we know about the death toll, 17 people, 2 police officers who were outside of the British Consulate are dead, and over 300 people are injured.

I am right outside the HSBC building, which is near the beginning of the financial district of Istanbul. It was a busy business day, but as we were getting closer to the Ramadan holiday, the banks were sort of slowing down in terms of operation. So, we hope that there will be less casualties and injuries from the HSBC Bank explosion.

We have gotten reports and, as I have to say, that the Turkish court has put a gag order on the Turkish broadcasters and Turkish papers about the possibility of a car bomb or the perpetrators. But we have reports that it is a high possibility of a suicide attack. We know that two attacks were carried out by car bombs -- one outside the British Consulate and the other one outside the HSBC building on a busy street.

And the first one -- I would say they were all done simultaneously, but the British Consulate attack happened in a narrow street. So, there seems to be a lot more casualties, civilian casualties. The building is intact. The fortified wall outside the consulate protected the building pretty well, but the HSBC building was located on a big avenue on the financial district of Istanbul.

So, there are a lot of passersby, people driving their cars that were killed during the bombing. The neighborhood is trying to get back to normal, but the police have sealed off around one square kilometer around the area.

We are right outside the building, and the car pieces that have flown away almost 200-300 meters away from the bank to the neighborhood. There are lots of people in the hospitals. There is blood urgency going on at this time. But people are slowly trying to get back to normal.

We have also gotten information -- and these are unconfirmed, let me put it, you know, very bluntly -- that the two people who were missing from the synagogue attacks, who were suspected to have fled to Dubai, are main subjects of these attacks. The police is putting their focus on these two people and trying to confirm that it might be those two people who were missing from the synagogue attacks might have committed these two explosions.

O'BRIEN: I want to ask you a couple questions about what the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said. He said, first of all, that this attack has all the hallmarks of al Qaeda, and indeed there have been claims of responsibility. What can you tell me about that, Ahu?

OZYURT: About al Qaeda, we have conflicting reports. And some newsrooms got that information, but, again, I have to say that the court has put an order, a gag order, on all of the reportings and all of the responsibilities and, you know, the groups that claim responsibility about these attacks. So, Turkish domestic networks are unable to report about this.

Al Qaeda hasn't done any big attacks in Turkey, so this is a completely new type of operation, as far as we see. There were smaller sleeper cells, as we might say, but it looks like al Qaeda might have used smaller Turkish Islamic militant groups as subcontractors or operatives.

O'BRIEN: Ahu, forgive me for interrupting you, and I'm going to ask you to stand by for us.


O'BRIEN: Because right now we are seeing the British prime minister, Tony Blair, along with President Bush. They are making their way from 10 Downing Street, and they're going to be holding a press availability, stalking -- talking, rather, to reporters. We're expecting them to come out. We've seen sort of their advance teams heading out just moments ago, and we're expecting them to come out of the door at 10 Downing Street in just moments. And after that, we expect them to take questions and make statements to the press.

No question at all, Ahu, that they will be discussing this situation in Turkey, so we're going to continue our conversations, but I'm going to apologize in advance when I have to break away for remarks from the prime minister and also the president.

I want to talk about something else that we heard from Jack Straw. He mentioned five bomb blasts. He said there were some reports of five different bomb sounds. What do you know about that?

OZYURT: As far as the numbers are concerned, we had got some very conflicting reports in the initial minutes of the attack. But we confirmed that there are two major attacks now -- one to the British Consulate and one to the HSBC Center. The other two or three, we might say, there was one explosion that claimed to be on the Asian side of the residential side of the city. That didn't come out to be true. The other two might be the possibility of cars exploding, the gas tanks exploding outside the British Consulate. Our reporter friends who were at that area at that very moment said that, you know, after the massive big explosions, they heard some cars explode, because of their gas tanks explode out of, you know, normal explosions. So, they were not supposed to be planned attacks or planned explosions, but sort of aftershocks, what we might say.

As far as the number of attacks confirmed, we can confirm only two major attacks at this point.

O'BRIEN: All right, and, again, I'm going to apologize in advance if I have to cut you off from your answer for this next question as we are waiting for the British prime minister and the president of the United States to come out and make some remarks. But I want to ask you a little bit about the neighborhood. As much as the attacks appear to be on British targets, it seems clearly that it's a residential neighborhood, and many local people are in the area and clearly could be among the dead and certainly among the injured. Is that fair to say?

OZYURT: I would say so. I mean, the British Consulate is very near the Cultural District, very near book shops, theaters, movie theaters, and it's very much populated by young people who come out of schools. There are a couple of high schools in that area, foreign high schools, a lot of consulates...

O'BRIEN: Abu, I'm going to interrupt you there, because we are seeing President Bush and the British prime minister, Tony Blair, making their way from 10 Downing Street.

Thank you for updating us from Istanbul. We'll get back to you.


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