After deadly blasts, Turks continue to mourn

Funerals, peace marches are held in edgy Istanbul

November 23, 2003|By Tracy Wilkinson | Tracy Wilkinson,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Yesterday was a day of more funerals, peace marches across Turkey to protest last week's suicide bombings, and surging anger - some of it directed at the United States.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking at a funeral under sunny skies that belied the sorrow felt by those gathered, said the killers of more than 50 people in four attacks were Turkish citizens "with links abroad."

He thus confirmed what had been widely reported last week, and he appealed for unity and perseverance.

"Bombs will not silence our freedom," he said. "The price of this freedom has been paid many times, and this will continue. If we do not pay the price, it is impossible to achieve the life we desire."

Erdogan watched the burial of two police officers who were killed while guarding the bombed British Consulate, their photographs pinned to his lapel. Then he attended the funeral of a well-known actor who was killed as he sat in his car at a stoplight outside the London-based HSBC bank blown up Thursday.

At least three groups purportedly linked to the al-Qaida terror network have claimed responsibility for simultaneous attacks on two synagogues that killed 25 people Nov. 15, and for two bombings at the consulate and the high-rise bank headquarters Thursday. Thirty people were killed in Thursday's attacks, plus the two bombers, and about 500 were injured.

The city remained on edge yesterday, although shoppers crowded the narrow, cobblestone streets of central Istanbul and the sounds of hammers and drills hinted at repair work in progress. All of Istanbul's synagogues remained closed, Shabbat services canceled, and police maintained high-alert guard at places of worship, malls and other potential targets.

Most of Turkey is shutting down for the nine-day holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, a month of fasting. It is a national holiday here.

Several thousand Turks waving national flags gathered yesterday morning in an Istanbul plaza near the crippled consulate, as well as in the capital, Ankara, and other cities elsewhere in the country, to protest the killings. Some people in the crowd blamed the United States, for whom Turkey has served as a strategic ally.

A placard declared, "We know who the murderers are," then revealed images of President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Along with a minute of silence observed in honor of the dead, some protesters also chanted slogans against Bush and Israel, another Turkish ally.

Some Turks think Ankara's friendship with Washington and Israel has made it a target of Islamic extremists determined to attack Western interests, Jews and moderate Muslims. The Turkish government supported the U.S. war in Iraq, although most Turks opposed it.

Emre Gonensay, a former foreign minister and retired economist, said the anger expressed yesterday against the United States would not translate into any change in the U.S.-Turkish relationship.

"On the contrary," he said, "this is solidifying the relationship. The Americans' offers of help, NATO's offer of help, these are creating a new cooperation. That's the only positive aspect of all this. If [the attackers] intended to drive a wedge between Turkey and the West, they did the opposite."

At least 18 people reportedly have been rounded up for questioning in the bombings. Police officials have told Turkish media that a Turk bought trucks used in two of the attacks, at the consulate and the Neve Shalom synagogue, from the same garage at the same time.

The Anatolian state news agency reported the arrest yesterday of an additional person suspected of planning another bomb attack on behalf of a far-left group. The suspect, who was not identified, was arrested during a raid on a house in Ankara, where police also seized documents planning the attack, Anatolian said.

The suspect was reported to belong to the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, which has claimed responsibility for minor bomb attacks recently but has no known connection to Islamic extremists.

One of the suspects in the bombings, named by Turkish media, had ties to the Turkish Hezbollah group, according to officials in the man's hometown. Turkish Hezbollah, not related to the Shiite Muslim organization of the same name based in Lebanon, is an Islamic group that fought Kurdish separatists but has been weakened.

Another small group called the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders Front purportedly has claimed responsibility for the bombings. Like Hezbollah, it had been crushed by Turkish security services. In the past, it took responsibility for Molotov cocktail attacks on churches, bars and other targets. Its leader sits in jail facing the death penalty.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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