ISTANBUL – TDN with wire dispatches
Wednesday's assault killing three police officers and three gunmen in front of the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul's İstinye suburb might be related to the al-Qaeda terror organization, police sources said yesterday, according to news reports.
However, there has been no official confirmation of al-Qaeda involvement. Meanwhile, four people have been detained, Interior Minister Beşir Atalay said yesterday, according to the CNN-Türk news site. Police have said three of the suspects are from Istanbul, while the fourth is from elsewhere. “What we need now is to define the connections these people had,” Atalay said. There is no information that that the car used in the assault was full of bombs, he said as well. “The general view on the assault that it is a suicide attack,” Atalay said.
Two of the dead assailants were alleged to be trained in Afghanistan in camps of a terror organization called Abu Najaf al Afghani, which has connections with al-Qaeda. The same organization had organized the 2004 Madrid metro bombings, NTV reported. Other speculation about motives for Wednesday's assault in Istanbul includes it being a retaliatory strike for the police operation against an al-Qaeda cell in Turkey in 2006 in the southeastern province of Gaziantep. That operation was alleged to have been carried out with U.S. intelligence. Others suggested the assault might be retaliation for returning Abdurrahman Yar Muhammed, an alleged al-Qaeda leader, to U.S. authorities. Atalay on the other hand said, only one of the assailants had been abroad before.
Two of the dead assailants were previously convicted of petty offenses. The assailants, identified as Erkan Kargın and Raif Topcıl, are from the southeastern province of Bitlis, while Bülent Çınar is from Iğdır. Relatives of Çınar in Iğdır's Sürmeli village said Çınar must have been deceived for him to have participated in a terror attack. Çınar's family migrated to Istanbul 10 years ago. All three of the assailants lived in Şahintepe neighborhood of Istanbul's Küçükçekmece district, the CNN-Türk news site reported. Topcıl's father, Muhsin Topcıl, had been arrested in 1996 in an operation in Bitlis against the Islamic fundamentalist organization Hezbollah
An old attack plan
Al-Qaeda had planned to attack U.S. consulates five years ago, a secret report of the Istanbul Police Department said, according to the Doğan news agency. The terrorist organization altered that plan at the last moment and chose, instead, the United Kingdom consulate as a target, the agency said. The Istanbul Police Department prepared the report upon the request of a court that is hearing an al-Qaeda case. The Police Department stated that the organization was capable of carrying out assaults in the near future like the one on Wednesday.
Looking for the car
Meanwhile, police found a gray car without a license plate that fit the description of the car that was used in the assault. However, it was later found that the car had no connection with the assault.
Security measures in front of the consulate building have been increased since the attack, while the U.S. flag in the courtyard is being flown at half-mast to honor the dead Turkish policemen. The glass in the police housing with bullet holes has not yet been replaced.
Bodies of police officers sent to their hometowns
A ceremony was held in front of the Istanbul Police Department building for the three police officers who lost their lives in Wednesday's assault at the U.S. consulate. Many ministers, Police Chief Celalettin Cerrah and the chief consul of the U.S. mission, Sharon Wiener, participated in the ceremony. “Our struggle against terror will go on with strong determination,” said Atalay.
They were young
The three police officers who died in the assault were each in their 20s and newly employed on the police force. Mehmet Önder Saçmalıoğlu, 21, was the youngest police officer among the three victims. He had been on his first assignment for only 15 days and was responsible for traffic on the street in front of the consulate. Born in the southern province of Osmaniye, Saçmalıoğlu graduated from Diyarbakır Police School. Son of a craftsman, like Öztaş, Saçmalıoğlu has two other siblings. His mother, Zeynep Saçmalıoğlu, said she talked to her son just one night ago and he told her not to worry, his work was good.
Erdal Öztaş, son of a craftsman in Çorum, was 28. Born in the Anatolian province of Çorum's Ortaköy district, Öztaş had been married for one year and his wife is now eight-months pregnant. Öztaş has three other siblings. A graduate of the history department from 19 Mayıs University, Öztaş became a police officer in 2007. He had been working as traffic policemen in Istanbul. Öztaş's body is expected to be buried today in Çorum.
Nedim Çalık was on duty in the police housing in front of the consulate gate. Born in the Black Sea province of Rize, Çalık was 25 and had worked as a police officer for two years. Çalık lost his father two years ago and had five other siblings.