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Istanbul Shaken Following Explosions That Killed 27 - 2003-11-20

At least 27 people were killed and nearly 500 wounded in Istanbul Thursday when bomb laden trucks slammed into the British Consulate and a branch of a London-based bank. The attacks come just five days after suicide bombers attacked two synagogues in the city, killing at least 26 people and wounding 200 more.

Istanbul was shaken by two nearly simultaneous bomb attacks Thursday, which have been called the worst terrorist attacks in Turkey's history. Among the victims was British Consul-General Roger Short.

Shards of shattered glass and jagged pieces of metal could be seen strewn for hundreds of meters - scenes similar to those of Saturday's synagogue attacks. Eyewitnesses say they saw a smoldering mountain of rubble two meters high in front of the British Consulate, where a police booth once stood. A policeman at the scene said he saw a green pick-up truck pull up in front of the consulate just minutes before the attack.

Turkish leaders condemned the twin attacks, and Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan vowed that his nation would remain undeterred by what he termed cowardly acts.

Turkish interior minister, Abdulkadir Aksu, said there were similarities with Saturday's suicide bombings of two Istanbul synagogues. A group with links to the al-Qaida terror network claimed responsibility for those attacks. Turkish authorities established the identities of the suicide bombers at the synagogues as Turkish citizens who had links with a local Islamic terrorist organization called Hezbollah. The group has no connection with its Lebanese namesake, but is said to receive training and equipment from Iran.

It remains unclear who mounted Thursday's attacks against British targets or why. Analysts say the attacks were likely carried out as part of a global campaign of terror aimed at the United States and its allies, such as Britain and Turkey. President Bush was visiting Britain when the attacks happened.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the bombings showed what he termed, "utter contempt," for innocent life. British foreign secretary Jack Straw said the attacks had all the hallmarks of international terrorism practiced by al-Qaida. Mr. Straw decided to fly to Istanbul to help deal with the crisis.

Predominantly Muslim Turkey is counted among Washington's strongest regional allies. It is the sole mainly Muslim member of the NATO military alliance. Turkey is also Israel's closest friend in the region.

Western diplomats expressed concerns that Turkey's multi-billion-dollar tourism industry would be hurt by the wave of terrorist attacks.

Police have stepped up security measures both in Istanbul and the Turkish capital, Ankara, where roads leading to the U.S. and British embassies were sealed off from traffic.