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Istanbul Explosions Appear to be Al-Qaida Style Attacks, Says Britain - 2003-11-20

Britain says the explosions in Istanbul appear to be al-Qaida-style attacks that have claimed a number of British diplomats among the casualties. The attacks on the British Consulate and a branch of the British bank HSBC came during a state visit to Britain by President Bush.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told parliament an unspecified number of British diplomats are missing in the blast at the British Consulate in Istanbul.

Asked about the fate of Consul-General Roger Short, who is reported to be among the missing, Mr. Straw said he could not comment on specific individuals until the next-of-kin had been notified. A spokesman for HSBC says its staff suffered a number of fatalities.

The foreign secretary says the initial suspicion is that an Islamic terrorist group like al-Qaida perpetrated the blasts.

"Though it is too early to say who precisely was behind these explosions, they have every hallmark of the cowardly and indiscriminate acts of terrorism of al-Qaida and its associates," he said.

A foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Conservative Party, Richard Spring, said Britons were targeted because of the country's strong support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

"We have taken a very robust view on terrorism, working of course with the Americans. I do believe this is very clearly directed at ourselves and our interests," he said.

The British prime minister, Tony Blair, told a joint news conference with President Bush that Britain will not back down despite some public pressure to do so.

"There may be some who think that Britain would gain from standing back from this struggle, even some who believe that we, the United States and our allies have brought this upon ourselves," Mr. Blair said. "Let us be very clear. America did not attack al-Qaida on September 11. Al-Qaida attacked America, and in doing so attacked not just America, but the way of life of all people who believe in tolerance and freedom, justice and peace."

Britain's Scotland Yard police force is sending anti-terrorist experts to Turkey to help work on the investigation. The Foreign Office has issued new advice to tourists, telling Britons to defer all but essential travel to Turkey.