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2003-11-21

Turkey Seeks Answers After A Week Where Bombings Killed Over 50

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Days after two synagogue bombings in Istanbul kill 25 people, twin bombs in the capital city hit the British consulate and the headquarters of the British bank HSBC killing 27 and wounded over 450 others. We go to Turkey to hear from the Christian Science Monitor’s Bureau Chief in Istanbul. [Includes transcript]

In Turkey, the death toll of yesterday’s twin bombings against British targets has risen to 27. More than 450 people were injured. Among those killed was Roger Short, Britain’s top diplomat in Istanbul. Today British and Turkish officials vowed to join together to fight those who carried out the attacks that hit the British consulate and the headquarters of the British bank HSBC. A Turkish news agency reported that an anonymous caller said the attack was a joint effort between al Qaeda and a Turkish group called the Islamic Front of the Raiders of the Great Orient. Police have reportedly arrested seven Turkish citizens in connection to the bombings.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re going now to Turkey where the death toll of yesterday’s twin bombings against British targets has risen to 27. More than 450 people were injured. Among those killed were Roger Short, Britain’s top diplomat in Istanbul.

Today British and Turkish officials vowed to join together to fight those who carried out the attacks that hit the British consulate and the British headquarters of the British bank HSBC.

An anonymous caller said the bombing was the joint effort between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic Front of the Raiders of the Great Orient.

We’re joined on the telephone by Ilene Prusher, the Istanbul bureau chief of the "Christian Science Monitor."

JUAN GONZALEZ: Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ilene.

ILENE PRUSHER: Thank you.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you tell us what the situation is there right now and perhaps if you can, what this Islamic Front of the Raiders of The Great Orient is?

ILENE PRUSHER: Well, on the first question, the situation right now, I’m in the center of town, and Turks are still trying to come to terms with yesterday’s events, trying to repair all of the shattered shops and buildings.

Some of them are working on it. Some of them, of course, are sort of damaged beyond use. — and will have to be rebuilt.

The government is working on the investigation at the same time. Now, the group that you mentioned, you know, it has been heard of before.

Now they have actually taken responsibility for Saturday’s twin synagogue bombings, but then in fact, that call was discredited, and several experts on terrorism had said that that group was small, that its leaders were either in jail or had been killed, and they had no ability to carry out such an attack.

But since this is the second time they’re taking responsibility, it does raise the question that perhaps this group has managed to resurrect itself, as it will, perhaps with assistance or encouragement, financial or otherwise, from Al-Qaeda, and it may actually be the group that’s behind it. If that is so, it shows it is not simply an international Al-Qaeda arm, but that this has a very strong Turkish element in it, and at least some Turkish nationals were very clearly involved in planning this week of bombings.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Do you get the sense that this indicates perhaps an expansion to Turkey in a major way of the continuing battle of Islamic fundamentalist groups against the United States and Britain?

ILENE PRUSHER: It’s very possible. A lot of people are asking that question, and when you pose it to Turks, they say, well, I certainly hope not, but it certainly took some very sophisticated coordination and planning to plan twin bombings twice in one week. It suggests that perhaps this could be the start of something wider.

Now, Turkey, as we all know, is a good friend to the U.S., but it did oppose the war in Iraq and didn’t want U.S. soldiers to come through here. But then recently voted to send Turkish troops into Iraq and then that decision was basically put on hold, and the troops will not be sent, but for those in the world of Al-Qaeda and other Islamic fundamentalists, certainly Turkey is seen as a potential target because it’s a muslim country that has a secular government, that has been very pro-western for a long time. It’s a long term member of NATO. Those are things that sort of make it the exact opposite of what Osama Bin Laden and other Islamist idealogues in the country want to see throughout the region.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned —

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’m sorry. Amy, go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: You mention that Turkey had opposed the war, but I think it would be instructive to look back at what actually happened, how the Parliament voted, what the leadership wanted, and what the people of Turkey wanted. And then how that decision turned around.

ILENE PRUSHER: That’s true. The government or the leaders, you know, technically did say that they wanted the Parliament to vote in favor of that. However, it seems clear that at the time there wasn’t a lot of effort put into that, there wasn’t a lot of lobbying of the members of Parliament to vote in favor. In fact you’re right to point out, the measure actually only failed by a few votes. So, it wasn’t as though there was an overwhelming majority against it.

But the polls, however, showed that well over 90% of Turks were very much opposed to the war in Iraq. I don’t see that those figures have changed.

But at the same time Turkey values its relations with the West and with the U.S. in particular. A lot of effort has been put into repairing the relations in the last few months, and that’s what resulted in the Turkish Parliament agreeing just very recently to send its troops to Iraq, which in fact, of course, will not be going for the time being.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The callers, did they give any indication why they — why the attacks were done at this time?

Whether it was linked more to the Iraq war, or to Al-Qaeda’s continuing worldwide battle against the United States?

ILENE PRUSHER: No. As far as we know, there wasn’t a reason given, as far as we have been informed at this time.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Also, the — as you say, it’s clear that the overwhelming majority of the Turkish people were opposed to the Iraq war, but in Turkey is the situation similar to Saudi Arabia, let’s, say, where there’s significant support for Al-Qaeda in the general population?

ILENE PRUSHER: No. In fact, I would say on the contrary, the vast majority of Turks would say that they think Al-Qaeda is an extremist group that has given Islam a bad name, and most people are very vehemently against it.

I think that you can probably find a small fringe of people who either do support it or at the very least who would say that they would like to see Turkey have a more Islamic character as a country, because the government has gone to great lengths to make sure that it has a secular outlook and that means that women who wear Islamic head scarfs can’t even go into public buildings like universities or government buildings.

In fact, there has been for a long time there has been resentment among conservative Islamic groups inside Turkey. Whether some of those might be lurching further from the mainstream and towards Al-Qaeda, it’s possible, but if so, it’s been a very underground and covert movement until now and we really haven’t heard from them until these unfortunate attacks this week.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And have the —

AMY GOODMAN: Where do —

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’m sorry, Amy. Go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: I was just going to ask where do the Kurds fit into this picture? In terms of the now — the bombings. We have been covering them for, you know, the whole issue of Turkey going into Iraq. The Kurds protesting this in Iraq. Now, the unrest in Turkey and the bombings — have Kurdish leaders been speaking out?.

ILENE PRUSHER: As far as we have seen in Turkey itself, no. However, we have had indications from the government that they have stepped up operations against Kurdish separatish groups, namely the PKK in southeastern Turkey — Now that war had been put on hold for a few years, and it seems that the gloves are back off and there is fighting going on.

It hasn’t affected the vast majority of people in Turkey or Istanbul in particular.

Now, some of the bombers who were involved in Saturday’s synagogue bombings were actually from southeastern Turkey so, whether or not there could be some link between the extremist Islamic groups who are presumed to have carried out the bombings and the Kurdish groups is a question that we cannot really answer yet but the government is looking into it, because there are a few Kurdish groups that have acted in northern Iraq and they have acted alongside a few far right, but let’s say, Kurdish Islamic groups like one called Unsar Al Islam.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to thank you very much for being with us, Ilene Prusher, Istanbul bureau chief of the "Christian Science Monitor," who has been giving us an update of the situation there after the bombings.

You’re listening to Democracy Now!. We’ll be back in a moment.

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