| A police officer watches a demonstration in Istanbul. (AFP)
Istanbul, Nov. 22 (Reuters): Four suicide bombers who killed more than 50 people in Istanbul over the past week were Turkish citizens, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said today, as some in Turkey turned their anger on the US.
Several thousand Turks gathered in Istanbul and other cities to protest against the bombs and what some said was the underlying cause of the attacks — the US and Nato member Turkey’s close links with the world’s only superpower.
Speaking at the funeral of two police officers killed in attacks on Thursday, Erdogan said it was a matter of shame for Turkey that its own citizens were responsible.
Erdogan also reaffirmed Turkey’s belief that the bombers had links with foreign groups.
Groups linked to al Qaida have claimed responsibility for two attacks on synagogues last Saturday that killed 25 people and two further bombings on the British consulate and HSBC bank on Thursday in which at least 27 people died. “We must not be intimidated,” Erdogan said at the funeral of actor Kerem Yilmazer, killed on Thursday. “Bombs are not strong enough to stop us living freely.”
Some protesters blamed US policies for the blasts. “People think what’s happened in Istanbul was a result of America’s policies in the world,” said one demonstrator in Ankara who asked not to be named. He said it was dangerous for Turkey to be close to the US, whose invasion of neighbouring Iraq was deeply opposed by most Turks.
Bush said yesterday Turkey, a Nato ally long held up by the US as a model for Islamic democracy, had become a new front in the “war on terror”. A statement from a unit of the al Qaida network said it carried out the twin strikes.
on the British consulate and the London-based HSBC bank, which killed at least 27 people and wounded more than 400.
CLAIMS AND ARRESTS
A small Turkish radical Islamist group has also claimed joint responsibility with al Qaeda for the carnage whose victims included Muslims, Jews and Christians.
The Hurriyet newspaper reported that anti-terrorist police had detained 18 people in a sweep of three Istanbul districts and that all police leave had been cancelled. Police were not immediately available to comment on the report.
Authorities said on Friday several people had been arrested over Thursday's two blasts but gave no further details.
Erdogan, who leads a party suspected by secularists in Turkey of Islamist leanings, appealed for unity.“Turkish people must report any suspicions immediately to the police because it is time for cooperation,” he said at the police funeral.
At a small synagogue in Istanbul's Ortakoy district by the Bosphorus there were no public prayers on Saturday morning and two police cars kept watch at the hour when the first bombs exploded a week earlier. A spokesman for the Jewish community said all 18 synagogues in Istanbul remained closed.
Milliyet newspaper said trucks used in Thursday's attack on the British Consulate and in last Saturday's blast at the Neve Shalom synagogue were both bought by a Turkish man at the same time from the same garage.
A statement apparently from a unit of al Qaeda called the Abu Hafz al-Masri Brigades said it had carried out the latest attacks. It could not be independently authenticated.
A Turkish group called the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders Front (IBDA-C) has also claimed joint responsibility with al Qaeda for all four Istanbul attacks.
Ä Additional reporting by Claudia Parsons in Istanbul and Gill Tudor in Ankara