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Attack on Freemasons' Lodge in Istanbul Claims Two Lives

One assailant is among the dead; the other is wounded. The raid, four months after bombings in the Turkish city, raises questions about security.

March 10, 2004|Amberin Zaman | Special to The Times

ANKARA, Turkey — At least two people were killed and six others wounded when two attackers with automatic weapons and explosives raided a Masonic lodge late Tuesday in Istanbul, the country's commercial capital.

One of the assailants died and another, who had explosives strapped to his torso, was badly wounded. The attack comes four months after four suicide bombings blamed on Al Qaeda killed at least 60 people in Istanbul.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday's attack.

Eyewitnesses quoted by the private television news channel CNN-Turk said the men chanted Islamic slogans as they entered the building in the Kartal neighborhood about 10 p.m. They shot the building's guard in the leg and then sprayed the lodge's canteen with bullets, shattering its window and wounding several diners, Istanbul Gov. Muammer Guler said.

One of the wounded was reported to be in critical condition.

"One terrorist and one waiter was killed," Guler said. He said the second attacker suffered serious injuries.

The suspect was identified only as Abdullah Islam.

Firefighters and ambulances rushed to Kartal, a sprawling, lower-middle-class neighborhood largely populated by ethnic Kurds from Turkey's southeastern provinces.

After the bombings in November, Guler insisted that the city was safe from additional suicide attacks. One senior Western intelligence source, speaking on condition of anonymity, had termed Guler's assertion "wildly optimistic" at the time.

At least two of the pickup trucks used in the November attacks against two synagogues, the British Consulate and a British-owned bank in Istanbul were purchased in Kartal, and three of the suicide bombers were identified as Kurds.

Officials said they would investigate if there was a link between those attacks and Tuesday's blasts.

Prosecutors indicted 69 people suspected of belonging to a local Al Qaeda cell in the November case.

Abu Musab Zarqawi, seen as a prominent figure in the Al Qaeda terrorist network, was the mastermind of the cell, according to Turkish intelligence sources. He is believed to have spent time before the U.S. invasion of Iraq at the Iran-Iraq border, where his men helped train and run a Kurdish Islamic militant group called Ansar al Islam.

It was not immediately clear why the Freemasons, a secretive society that traces its roots to medieval craft associations, were targeted.

Many in this predominantly Muslim country believe that the Freemasons promote Western interests and have ties to Jewish businesses.

The attack is certain to raise further questions about the security situation in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city and a tourist destination.

The city of 10 million is also set to host a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in June that President Bush is to attend.

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