Friday, February 1, 2013

US Embassy compound in Turkey hit by 'terrorist' attack

NBC's Richard Engel reports witnesses in Turkey are saying a suicide bomber tried to enter the U.S. embassy in Ankara, getting as far as the first x-ray machine before detonating an explosive device. A Turkish guard was reportedly killed in the blast.

By Richard Engel, Aziz Akyavas and Ian Johnston, NBC News

A suicide bomber blew himself up at an entrance to the U.S. Embassy compound in Ankara, Turkey, on Friday, officials said.

U.S. State Department and Turkish interior ministry officials said the bomber and one other person were killed in the attack that took place at about 1:15 p.m. local time (6:15 a.m. ET).

"Clearly, it’s a terrorist attack," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a media briefing, adding that the U.S. condemns the hit in strong terms.

The bomber, who was wearing a suicide vest, made it to the first X-ray machine leading to the visa section, police sources said, and then detonated the device.

The Turkish security guard standing nearby was killed, but the two guards on the other side of the checkpoint, behind bulletproof glass, survived. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, sources had said three people were thought to have been killed.

Nuland said a Turkish citizen was hurt and is in "serious condition." Reuters reported this victim was a journalist on her way in to the embassy to meet U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone. Several U.S. and Turkish staff members were hit by flying debris and treated at the scene.

Turkish television footage taken shortly after the attack showed smoke rising from the area and a heavily damaged door that led to a side street.

Nuland said the attack happened on an external perimeter access site whose level of security protection ensured that the strike wasn't worse.

Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler told reporters that the bomber belonged to an illegal leftist group, Reuters reported. He said the attacker could have been a member of the militant Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front or another leftist group.

The group has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

However, the White House said Friday that it was not yet clear who was responsible for the bombing, Reuters reported.

"The attack itself was clearly an act of terror," Jay Carney, White House spokesman, said in a briefing with reporters.

The State Department said the U.S. will cooperate with the Turkish side on the investigation into the attack.

A suicide bomber blew himself up at an entrance to the embassy compound in Ankara.


Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who was attending a ceremony in Istanbul when the blast happened, said the attack "shows that we need to fight together everywhere in the world against these terrorist elements."

In an emergency message Friday, the State Department said Americans were “advised to not visit the Consulates in Istanbul, Adana or the Embassy in Ankara until further notice.”

“The Department of State advises U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Turkey to be alert to the potential for violence, to avoid those areas where disturbances have occurred, and to avoid demonstrations and large gatherings,” the message said.

In Berlin on Friday, Vice President Joe Biden said that he appreciated an "expression of sympathy" over the attack from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying it reinforced the "very close counterterrorism cooperation that exists between Germany and the United States."

On Sept. 11 last year, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, prompting concern about security for diplomats.

On Jan. 23, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she took responsibility for not adequately protecting U.S. personnel in Benghazi. Her voice choked with emotion as she remembered the return of "flag-draped caskets" and putting her arms around relatives of those who died.

Nuland said on Friday that after Benghazi, every U.S. post in the world reviewed its security. She added that the embassy in Ankara is one of the posts due for a complete compound overhaul. The building housing the embassy was built in the 1950s and needs a full upgrade, Nuland said.
The Associated Press noted groups tied to al-Qaida had attacked U.S. and U.K. consulates in Turkey in the past:

Homegrown Islamic militants tied to al-Qaida have carried out suicide bombings in Istanbul, killing 58, in 2003. The targets were the British consulate, a British bank and two synagogues.

In 2008, an attack blamed on al-Qaida-affiliated militants outside the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul left three assailants and three policemen dead.

In the November 2003 attack on the British consulate, a suspected Islamic militant rammed an explosive-laden pickup truck into the main gate, killing British Consul-General, Roger Short, and his assistant, Lisa Hallworth.

The State Department says on its website that 15 people who claimed they were associated with al-Qaida were arrested in July 2011 for gathering explosive materials in preparation for an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara.

Mehmet Ali Ozcan / EPA
Turkish police secure the area after an explosion at an entrance to the U.S. Embassy compound in Ankara Friday.

It added that the July plot and other incidents "show a willingness on the part of some terrorist groups to attack identifiably Western targets. The possibility of terrorist attacks, from both transnational and indigenous groups, remains high."

The State Department posting said the PKK Kurdish rebel group was the "most active terrorist organization in Turkey."

It said the PKK had historically targeted Turkish government and military interests, but had recently "threatened increased violent activity in Turkey’s urban areas, and there is credible information suggesting that it intends to continue targeting tourist areas as well."

Earlier this month, about 400 U.S. personnel arrived at Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base to support the deployment of a NATO Patriot missile battery to help defend the country from possible incursions by Syria’s forces during that country’s ongoing civil war.

Reuters, The Associated Press and NBC News Staff Writers John Newland, Alastair Jamieson and Becky Bratu contributed to this report.

From April 2011: US ally Turkey flirts with Mideast's 'bad boys'
After decades of oppression, Kurds get taste of freedom as Assad's troops flee

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