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Probably No Link Between al-Qaida, Tuesday's Bombing, say Turkish Police - 2004-03-10

Turkish police say there is probably no link between the al-Qaida terrorist network and the perpetrators of Tuesday's suicide bomb attack against a Masonic lodge in Istanbul.

Police kept up their search for clues at the scene of the explosions in Istanbul's Kartal neighborhood Wednesday. The blasts occurred late Tuesday when two men with explosives strapped to their bodies blew themselves up at the entrance of a Masonic lodge, after opening fire on some 40 diners at the lodge's private canteen.

One of the assailants and a waiter died in the attack. The other assailant, who reportedly chanted pro-Islamic slogans as he sprayed the crowd with bullets, was being treated for severe injuries at an Istanbul hospital.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the blasts. But Turkish police said Wednesday that the attack mounted against the Masonic lodge did not bear the hallmarks of al-Qaida and had more likely been planned by an amateur domestic group.

The attack comes three months after suicide bombers attacked two synagogues, the British Consulate and a British owned bank in Istanbul, killing over 60 people and wounding hundreds of others. The al-Qaida terrorist network claimed responsibility for the attacks, all carried out by Turkish nationals.

Some 69 people have been indicted in connection with those bombings.

It remains unclear why the Free Masons were targeted. Analysts say the secretive group which brings together male and female professionals is viewed by some Turks as an organization that seeks to further the business interests of Jews. The wounded suicide bomber shouted "down with Israel" as he was carried to an ambulance after the attack, suggesting that the assailants shared that belief.

Many prominent Turkish businessmen, both Muslim and Jewish are members of five Masonic lodges operating in Turkey.

Istanbul governor, Muammer Guler, recently said that police had eliminated the threat of further attacks in Istanbul. Home to 10 million people, Istanbul is Turkey's commercial capital, and a prime tourist destination. The city is set to host a NATO summit at the end of June, that is to be attended by President Bush.