- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2003

ISTANBUL — A thick fog shrouded central Istanbul on the morning after two truck bombs shredded this Islamic nation’s sense of normalcy, leaving shell-shocked Turks groping to understand why that they had become the newest target of terrorist attacks by fellow Muslims.

To be sure, over the past two decades the country straddling Asia and Europe has suffered its share of crises, from Kurdish guerrilla attacks to devastating earthquakes, to painful economic collapse.

But after two sets of twin bombing attacks, taking the lives of at least 50 people and injuring hundreds in less than a week, a new ground zero scarred the center of Istanbul and marked a new front in a new world war.

“It’s kind of a rude awakening to a terror that Turkey had not seriously thought about,” said Ilter Turan, a professor at Istanbul Bilgi University.

“It’s a society that has had a taste of terror, but not of international magnitude and not on this scale,” he said.

Military police with camouflage bulletproof vests and submachine guns kept people blocks away from the headquarters of HSBC bank, its facade ripped away by one of two near-simultaneous blasts that killed at least 27 there and at the nearby British Consulate.

A bystander in a nearby cemetery snapped digital pictures of the Istanbul ground zero with a mobile phone.

At a McDonald’s restaurant amid clothing and jewelry boutiques in an upscale shopping district, a security guard armed with a metal detector checked patrons on their way inside.

Concrete barriers blocked traffic from the driveway at the Istanbul Hilton near the street where another bomb went off last Saturday in front of the Beth Israel synagogue, one of two synagogues targeted in a suicide attack that killed 23.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters that authorities had made some arrests in connection with Thursday’s attack.

But beyond impassioned pledges to strike back at the perpetrators, he and other government officials had little concrete information to share about the latest wave of attacks.

“Last time we identified the terrorists, but finding out what their connections are is taking more time,” said a government official.

“Since this is inhuman behavior, it’s difficult for us to think. There should be some reason, but at this juncture, it’s speculation,” the official said.

In the absence of official explanation of the mayhem, Turkish men sought solace in the hundreds of mosques across the city in the final days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The wailing prayer call of the Friday Sabbath service drowned out the noontime bustle in Taksim, the central commercial district that is home to the British Consulate, where at least 15 were killed on Thursday.

“The muezzin said that the terrorists are against our country. The muezzin said that they cannot be Muslim,” said Tuncer Someren, 52, a food services worker at the Taksim hospital where many of the casualties arrived. “We don’t know who is our enemy.”

Upon further reflection, Mr. Someren speculated that Turkey had been singled out because it maintained secular democratic rule in a predominantly Muslim country. The coexistence of Islam with an open society was under attack.

The mixture of West and East could be heard in the traffic jams caused by the blocked-off streets around the bomb sites.

Middle Eastern guitar rhythms flowed from a passing taxi, giving way to the heavy beats of American hip-hop.

Some people were ambivalent about U.S. political influence and others blamed the attacks on Turkey’s alliance with the United States.

“This is happening because of America. Whatever America wants, we do,” said Mahmut Kocarslan, a taxi driver. “They started a war with Iraq and all this began.”

“People are hiding, but they don’t know from what,” said Mr. Kocarslan. “This has never happened in our lives.”


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