| A woman wounded in the blast at the British consulate in Istanbul being evacuated on Thursday. (Reuters)
Istanbul, Nov. 20 (Agencies): Suicide car bombers wrecked the symbols of Britain’s political and financial might in Turkey today, killing 27 people in deadly strikes timed with President George W. Bush’s tour of London.
The bombings shattered the British consulate and the headquarters of HSBC in Istanbul, the capital of the most pro-western country in the Muslim world. The mission’s chaplain said Consul-General Roger Short, a career diplomat, was among 15 killed at the British mission.
Bush’s entourage was speeding toward London’s Westminster Abbey for a solemn wreath-laying ceremony as the first pictures of bodies and mangled wreckage on the streets of Istanbul appeared on TV.
A health official said in Istanbul 390 people were wounded. Only five days ago, suicide bombers carried out a twin attack on Istanbul synagogues, killing 25 people.
“Turkey will be like a fist,” Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said.
At both bomb sites, men and women wept amid a chaos of wrecked cars and dismembered bodies. Thick black smoke rose into a blue sky as emergency services screamed through the streets.
The blast left a huge crater outside the base of HSBC, Britain’s largest bank. The self-styled “world’s local bank” has 218,000 employees around the globe and almost 100 million customers worldwide.
“We knew it was a bomb when an arm came flying through the window,” said a doctor at a clinic near the HSBC blast site.
A caller to Anatolian news agency claimed responsibility on behalf of al Qaida and a Turkish group known as the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders Front (IBDA-C) and linked to Saturday’s bombings.
A witness reported a green van with the markings of a food company driving into the gate of the consulate as it exploded, the same devastating technique used five days before in the synagogue attacks.
Bush expressed grief over the attacks. “Great Britain and America and other free nations are united... in our determination to fight and defeat this evil wherever it is found.”
Turkey is one of Washington’s closest political and military allies in the Muslim world — a relationship that singles it out as a possible target for Islamist militants. Its government has Islamist roots but its policies are strongly pro-western.
Washington has long promoted Turkey, the only Muslim Nato member, as a model Islamic democracy that could be emulated by other Islamic countries.
The first of Thursday’s blasts hit a wide avenue in the financial district, flanked by the towering HSBC building and a popular new glass-fronted shopping mall. The target of the second, the consulate, was set in a narrow street of older stone buildings in an area brimming with shops, bars and restaurants.