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False Air Raid Alarm Startles Turks

January 23, 1991|WILLIAM D. MONTALBANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ADANA, Turkey — Startled Turks endured their first air raid alert here Tuesday night when American electronic monitors at nearby Incirlik Air Base detected the launch of an Iraqi missile and declared a probable attack.

Sirens startled this southeastern Turkish city where, a few hours before, an American Patriot missile at Incirlik had misfired and exploded in midair over a working-class neighborhood not far from the base, which is being used to launch U.S. attacks against Iraq.

Tuesday night's Iraqi missile was apparently the one that struck Tel Aviv a few minutes later. When the launch was detected, nearly 4,000 American service personnel donned gas masks and sought shelter until "intelligence revealed it was going somewhere else," said Air Force Lt. Col. Dick Sheffield, a base spokesman.

Although the alert of a probable attack lasted only three minutes at the base itself, the air raid sirens sowed confusion in this city of 1 million still shaken by the Patriot mishap. Turkish authorities neither explained the alert nor announced an all-clear.

More than 50 guests and workers at one downtown hotel spent more than an hour of the alert in a basement shelter. A Turkish civilian airliner landed without incident in the middle of the alert, and traffic continued normally on city streets, but the chef of one downtown restaurant bolted when the sirens sounded, leaving diners to stream out behind him.

Late Tuesday, hundreds of residents were leaving their homes near the base, a Turkish reporter said. Incirlik, where 98 American warplanes are based, has been used to bomb targets in northern Iraq since last Friday.

As part of the buildup for war, the U.S. Patriot batteries have been recently installed to defend the base, 460 miles from the Iraqi frontier. Although those installed here have not been fired in combat, Patriots in Saudi Arabia and Israel have been used as defense against incoming Iraqi missiles. The commander of U.S. forces at the base, which remains under overall Turkish control, told reporters last week that the Patriots were "being made operational."

Witnesses said the renegade Patriot soared skyward early Tuesday afternoon and exploded in a white cloud over Adana's 19th of May district.

A Turkish military spokesman said the missile had accidentally fired during a routine check. American spokesman Sheffield termed the incident "an inadvertent self-destruction" and said it is being investigated.

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