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25 killed in explosions in Istanbul
( 2003-11-20 20:34) (AP)

Explosions hit the high-rise headquarters of the London-based HSBC bank and the British consulate on Thursday, killing at least 25 people and wounding nearly 400, health officials said.

Smoke rises above the Istanbul skyline after a series of explosions rocked the Turkish commercial capital Istanbul November 20, 2003, one destroying part of the HSBC Bank headquarters and a second hitting the British consulate. [Reuters]

Witnesses said the attackers used pickup trucks in the bombings that occurred five minutes apart, about 11 a.m. The attacks, which Turkish media reported were suicide bombings, coincided with the visit of President Bush to London and were blamed on al-Qaida. They also came days after two synagogue suicide bombings killed 23 people.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw described the attacks as "clearly appalling acts of terrorism" and he suggested a link to the al-Qaida network.

"I'm afraid it has all the hallmarks of international terrorism practiced by al Qaida," he said in London.

A man calling the semiofficial Anatolia news agency claimed that al-Qaida and the militant Islamic Great Eastern Raiders' Front, or IBDA-C, jointly claimed responsibility for attacks.

Turkish authorities said the same groups were behind Saturday's nearly simultaneous synagogue bombings in Istanbul, which killed 23 people and the two attackers.

"It seems the attacks have been conducted with the same barbaric methods," Justice Minister Cemil Cicek, who serves as government spokesman, told reporters.

The first blast was at the Turkish headquarters of HSBC, the world's second-largest bank, sheering off the facade of the 18-floor building and shattering the windows of nearby skyscrapers.

Body parts, the charred shells of cars and broken glass were scattered around a 9-foot-deep crater that was carved in the streets outside the bank. Water gushed out of the top floors of the building like a faucet.

Bystanders bloodied and covered in dust looked dazed as they walked past lines of ambulances. Several people helped carry the limp bodies of victims.

Another bomb ripped off the wall surrounding the garden of the British consulate in the downtown Beyoglu district.

At least 25 people were killed and 390 wounded, Istanbul's Health Department reported. Television reports initially said up to five blasts, but Turkish authorities later confirmed only two.

Straw said three or four British employees from the consulate had not reported to a roll call following the blasts. British consul-general Roger Short was missing, private NTV news channel says.

One witness was traveling on the bus near the bank when the explosion occurred.

"I thought somebody hit our bus from the back, then I saw black smoke rising. Cars were damaged all around us. I saw the charred body of a driver at the wheel," said a sobbing Mehmet Altan.

"After the blast the bus doors got stuck and passengers broke the windows to get out. There were pieces of flesh spread all around," bus driver Necati Erkek said.

Another witness, Hakan Kozan, 29, who was close to the British consulate at the time of the explosion, said a white pickup truck was responsible for the blast.

"I heard a slam on the brakes and 10 seconds later the explosion came," Kozan told The Associated Press.

Mehmet Celik, who was slightly injured in the attack, said a light brown pickup truck "exploded in front of the HSBC headquarters."

Suleyman Karatas, an HSBC staffer, said there was "a bloodbath after the explosion," according to the Anatolia news agency. He said a number of 600 staffers of the bank were wounded.

Trading on the Turkish stock market was suspended. Some businesses, including the leading Yapi Kredi bank near HSBC and an IBM office near the British consulate, halted operations on Thursday after the explosions, CNN-Turk said.

The British consulate is located in the cramped historic Beyoglu district, a popular tourist destination with shops, bars, movie theaters and restaurants.

The nearby U.S. consulate was moved months ago to a new, more secure location in another district.

White House spokesman Sean McCormack said, "We're monitoring the situation in the wake of these apparent terrorist attacks." Turkey's Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu said the attacks targeted British-related institutions and appeared linked to Saturday's synagogue suicide bombings.

On Wednesday, authorities arrested six people in connection with the synagogue bombings. A Turkish court charged five with "attempting to overthrow the constitutional structure," which carries a sentence of life imprisonment. A sixth person was charged with "helping illegal organizations," punishable by five years in prison, Anatolia said.

No trial date has been set.

Two suicide attackers, both Turks, blew up pickup trucks outside the synagogues on the Jewish Sabbath, killing 23 people and the two bombers. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said the two had visited Afghanistan in the past and that investigators were looking for any al-Qaida links.

On Sunday, the al-Qaida terror network claimed responsibility for the bombings in messages to two Arabic-language newspapers, but it was not possible to authenticate those claims. An outlawed Turkish radical group called the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders' Front, or IBDA-C, also claimed responsibility, but Turkish authorities said the attack was too sophisticated to be carried out by that group.

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