- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2003

ISTANBUL — Ammonium nitrate-based explosives similar to those used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing were used in the four deadly suicide truck bombings in Istanbul, police said yesterday.

“The suicide bombers have carried out the attacks with ammonium nitrate-based explosives placed in the beds of pickup trucks,” Istanbul’s deputy police chief, Halil Yilmaz, told a news conference.

The attacks killed 61 persons, including the four suicide bombers, and wounded 712, Chief Yilmaz said in a statement to the Anatolia news agency.

Used as fertilizer, ammonium nitrate can become a powerful explosive when combined with fuel oil, a mixture used to make the bomb that killed 168 persons in Oklahoma City in 1995.

Western and Turkish officials say the series of suicide attacks in Istanbul — targeting two synagogues Nov. 15, and two British sites five days later — bore the hallmarks of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network.

The bodies of two British diplomats killed in the explosions were flown home after a somber ceremony yesterday.

Turkish police believe a bin Laden ally masterminded the Istanbul suicide attacks, Agence France-Presse reported.

Details about the probe have been restricted by a court-ordered news blackout, but the daily Hurriyet, quoting security sources, said Abu Mussab al-Zarkawi, a Jordanian, was behind the two waves of suicide bombings.

A Turkish court yesterday placed two suspects under arrest and charged them with membership in an illegal organization, which carries a maximum of five years in prison, Anatolia said. So far, 20 persons have been charged in the investigation.

Chief Yilmaz earlier in the day had announced the death toll as 55, including the four bombers, but a statement later put it at 61. Police did not provide an explanation regarding the discrepancy, but authorities have been struggling to identify body parts for days.

British Consul-General Roger Short and his assistant, Lisa Hallworth, were among those killed when an Islamist militant rammed an explosives-laden pickup truck into the main gate of the British Consulate. That attack happened minutes after a suicide bomber exploded a truck outside a London-based bank — the kind of near simultaneous, multiple attacks that al Qaeda has carried out.

Turkish soldiers loaded the Britons’ coffins, each draped with a Union Jack, onto a Turkish military cargo plane for the trip to Britain. Istanbul Gov. Muammer Guler joined other British diplomats for the somber religious ceremony at Ataturk Airport.

Chief Yilmaz said two Japanese-made Isuzu pickup trucks were used in the synagogue attacks, while two white Japanese-made Hino pickup trucks were used to attack the British targets.

Police raiding suspects’ houses confiscated two handguns and two “pen guns” — which can fire a single bullet — four shotguns and sniper’s binoculars. They also seized bomb-making material, tear gas, ski masks, 20 wireless radios, cameras, and documents in Arabic, Chief Yilmaz said.

Turkish officials have said all four suicide bombers were Turkish nationals, militants with international contacts. Newspapers have said some of them could have been trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan or Iran.

“Their foreign connections have been found out. They have been to al Qaeda. There are pro-Chechens among them,” Justice Minister Cemil Cicek was quoted as saying by the newspaper Milliyet. The minister did not elaborate.

Reuters news agency said many Turks trace their roots to the Caucusus, and Istanbul is home to a sizable number of exiled Chechens who are widely regarded as fellow Muslims fighting foreign oppression by Russians.

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