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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Three Explosions Hit British Targets in Turkey

Aired November 20, 2003 - 06:20   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DAVID CLARIDGE, TERRORISM EXPERT: His function has been in funding, in setting the broad agenda and perhaps signing off on, if you like, terrorist plots.
But the actual planning of activities has been left to a circle of those around him and the groups which affiliate themselves with al Qaeda and act, perhaps, in its name, but who have perhaps a more domestic agenda. So the planning process and the carrying out of terrorist activity does not require Osama bin Laden's direct intervention. And I would suggest that if Osama is, indeed, still alive, he is playing very little more than rhetorical role in attacks of this sort.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And, David, let me interrupt you for just a second, because I'm just getting word, Turkish television is reporting that the government received a phone call from some group claiming responsibility, the same group that blew up the synagogues just a short time ago in Istanbul. This is a Turkish militant group that does have ties to al Qaeda.

Can you tell us more about this militant group within Turkey?

CLARIDGE: I think the group you're referring to is called the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders Front. The Turkish specialists on Islamist groups suggested up until the point when the attack took place that this group was not sufficiently sophisticated or in a position to carry out attacks of the scale of the synagogue attacks on Saturday. It seems likely that if this group was responsible and has been involved in these attacks, that it's been supported and sponsored by external forces connected to al Qaeda who have increased the capability of the group and increased its funding.

The group was considered to be on the back foot, really, with many of its leading figures already imprisoned. So it's somewhat surprising to see them coming out of the woodwork at this stage.

COSTELLO: Let me bring our audience up to date, for those of you just joining us, as to what you're seeing on our air right now.

These are pictures out of Istanbul, Turkey. We have confirmed there have been two massive explosions there, one outside of the British consulate, the other outside of an international bank with British ties. It's based in London, but they have a big facility in Istanbul.

We have confirmed, how many dead now? We were saying three, but we have differing numbers. Christian, do you know?

I'm going to -- 15 dead. We have confirmed now 15 were killed and about 320 injured. Of course, those figures could change as the morning goes on.

All of this happening as President Bush and Tony Blair are meeting now in London. They're inside 10 Downing Street, by the way, talking. And, of course, this must be foremost on their agenda right now.

Back to David Claridge, our terrorism expert, right now.

We were talking about Osama bin Laden and what effect or, you know, if he was specifically ordering these kinds of attacks from wherever he is hiding out.

If coalition forces were able to take out Osama bin Laden, would this lessen such attacks?

We lost our terrorism expert.

Hopefully we'll get him back, because at least to me that is a fascinating question.

Again, you're watching pictures out of Istanbul, Turkey of two terrorist attacks. The British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, spoke about an hour ago now and he said that these terrorism attacks have all the earmarks of al Qaeda and they were specifically targeting British targets.

Ahu Ozyurt, I believe, CNN Turk correspondent, and we're going to go live to him in Istanbul.

He is apparently -- it's a her. I apologize.

We're going to go live to her in Istanbul.

She's standing near this international bank that was hit -- can you tell us what's going on right now?

AHU OZYURT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a bit of a calmed down situation right now. The police have sealed off the entire area. I have to tell you that this is a pretty much very commercial area, the beginning of almost like a banking district, financial district of Istanbul, the biggest city in Turkey.

There are ambulances rushing in and out. As you have said, the death toll seems to rise up to 15 now. But as your experts have said, it shows the sign of an al Qaeda attack because it's precisely aimed at a very big commercial target and a very political target in Istanbul.

We have heard that the British ambassador in Ankara is flying, has almost landed to Istanbul to check the situation at the consulate, which is a very cultural area, a very narrow street almost like a, you know, almost like a Broadway area where theaters and movie, movie theaters are located.

The one that I'm near is the financial area, which is pretty much the commercial heart of the town. And the explosion took place on a big, wide street. And it looks like the front side of the building has almost, almost all come down. The building is intact. We have heard that the personnel of the bank have been taken out of the building through the back gates, which shows us, shows that there will be less casualties as compared to the synagogue explosion last weekend.

But it looks like it's a very precisely targeted attack.

COSTELLO: I was just going to ask you if there's any way to determine how many were killed or injured at the bank.

OZYURT: No report of that so far. But there are hospitals around that area, several hospitals. And we have heard people saying that, you know, there is a blood urgency in the hospitals. There is no final word and we're expecting an explanation from the bank offices and the stock market, as the stock market has also halted its operations for the day.

COSTELLO: Yes, we've heard that, you know, day to day life in Turkey has just been turned upside down for this for obvious reasons.

So the stock market there is closed.

Are people being told to stay off the streets right now?

OZYURT: Oh, not really. I mean we, I am in this area and people are really reluctant to leave their markets and they're still outside the explosion site. Thus far, though, they're refusing to leave the places where they use to work and they use to live. So they're pretty much staying there. The police is keeping them out. Nobody's really, you know, rushing to leave the city or the area.

COSTELLO: We got word a short time ago that there was a claim of responsibility called in by this Turkish militant group with ties to al Qaeda.

Can you tell us anything more about that?

OZYURT: I personally do not have any confirmation of that, but I wouldn't be surprised. They're a smaller group that the Turkish government has cracked down a couple of years ago. They possibly have links to al Qaeda. This was always known that these sleeper cells that have been, you know, people who came out of prison or who were set free during the amnesty law just a couple of months ago, would be possible sleeper potentials for al Qaeda.

So it's not a surprising thing.

We don't know if any fixed organization would claim the responsibility, but there is certainly, you know, signs that it could be, you know, at least an al Qaeda planned and organized wave of terrorist attacks. COSTELLO: But this militant group within Turkey, it involves a rather small group of people.

Have there been any arrests? Does the Turkish government, the Turkish police know where these people are?

OZYURT: At this point, about this attack, no. But regarding the synagogue attack...

COSTELLO: Yes, that.

OZYURT: Six people have been put to jail last night and two are still missing, as we've been reporting over the days. They still (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and we have conflicting reports about that. But it looks like all of these attacks are very much organized by very small little groups, up to 10 people maximum. And it's very hard to track them down. And none of the Islamic groups in the jails, you know, in prison seem to claim responsibility.

COSTELLO: I was just wondering, you know, I know you can't speculate as to how the Turkish government will react to this, but after the synagogue bombings a short time ago, how was the government reacting? Was there any extra security put into place around Istanbul? Anything like that?

OZYURT: It was pretty sensitive. You know, the government, the prime minister openly said that whatever domestically the terrorists (UNINTELLIGIBLE) he rejects it and he would respond to it in any, you know, any harsh way he could. And it looks like the security measures have been tightened up. But Turkey has fought with terrorism over the years, but (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Kurdish terrorism. These are very massive in scale and very, very different from the terrorism that Turkey is used to.

So even the police measures seem to be a little bit, you know, lagging behind in terms of coping with car bombings, suicide bombings. Suicide bombing is completely new to Turkey. We've had only a couple of incidents in Turkey regarding suicide bombers, leftist groups, Kurdish groups. But none of this sort.

COSTELLO: All right, we're going to break away.

Thank you for joining us live from Istanbul, Turkey, our Turkish CNN correspondent.

We're going to have to take a break.

But before we take that break, I want to bring our viewers up to date.

We have confirmed there were two huge explosions in Istanbul, Turkey, one at an international bank with British interests, the other at the British consulate. We have confirmed now that 15 people have died in these explosions, 320 injured. Of course, this comes at the same time that President Bush is visiting Britain and talking with the prime minister there, Tony Blair. We're going to take a short break.

We'll be back with much more.

You stay right there.

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