Bomb Explodes Outside U.S. Embassy In Turkey

Feb 1, 2013
Originally published on February 1, 2013 1:09 pm

Transcript

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And I'm Renee Montagne. An explosion described by the State Department as a terrorist attack shook the U.S. embassy in the capital of Turkey, Ankara. The American ambassador says a Turkish security guard was killed and at least one other person was seriously wounded. Turkish investigators are exploring the possibility that it was a suicide bombing. Joining us now from Istanbul is NPR's Peter Kenyon. And Peter, what do you know? What is the latest information about this explosion?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, the blast occurred, Renee, earlier in the afternoon local time at a security checkpoint just outside the embassy proper. Turkey's interior minister says it was a suicide attacker. If that is confirmed, the death toll would then rise to two, including the bomber. U.S. Ambassador Frank Ricciardone pushed his way through a swarm of police and journalists not long after the blast. He confirmed that one Turkish security guard had been killed and a woman seriously wounded, also a Turkish citizen. The State Department says it's cooperating fully with Turkish officials who launched an investigation.

MONTAGNE: Peter, many U.S. diplomatic missions around the world are heavily fortified and for very good reason, because there have been these attacks. What about the embassy there in Ankara?

KENYON: Yes. That is well-fortified, although unlike, for example, the U.S. consulate here in Istanbul, the embassy is on a busy main thoroughfare in Ankara. The entrance, however, is off the main street, on a side street, which has much less traffic. I was just in the embassy a week ago. The visitors entrance is a stand-alone security checkpoint that is not connected to the building itself. The blast ripped a hole in the outer wall of that checkpoint. But based on what can be seen from the outside, I think you'd have to say the security of the embassy proper was not compromised.

MONTAGNE: And what are people there in Turkey saying about who or what group may have been behind this attack?

KENYON: Well, it's very early, of course. But the interior minister here in Turkey is already pointing at a little-known left-wing splinter group. It's called the People's Revolutionary Front. He's offering no evidence for that so far. There have been explosions at diplomatic missions here in Turkey in the past, most dramatically in 2003. There were a series of bombs in Istanbul that year, including synagogues, a bank and the British consulate. And some 67 people died, including the British consul general that year. In this case, in addition to this left-wing group that's under suspicion, Turks are always on guard for Kurdish militant attacks. Some wonder if this isn't another effort to derail nascent peace talks underway between Turkey and the Kurds, a la the shooting of three Kurdish activists in Paris recently.

There's also concerns about Syria-related violence spilling over into Turkey, and always worries that Islamist militants linked to al-Qaida or some other group might refocus on targets in Turkey at some point. Again, the investigators are just beginning to sort through the evidence, and this is speculation at this point.

MONTAGNE: And quite a range of groups there, though.

KENYON: Yes, there's no question about it. Turkey lives in a volatile, tense neighborhood, and although it likes to say it has zero problems with the neighbors, there's plenty of problems in the neighborhood.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, could this bombing have repercussions for the Turkish-U.S. relationship?

KENYON: Well, there have been a few rough spots in the U.S.-Turkey ties. Turkey, for instance, imports quite a bit of oil and gas from Iran, which is under sanctions. But on the question of terrorism and on many of the major geopolitical issues, the two countries are very tight. The ambassador's statement reflected that today. He was talking about Turkish-American friendship. So unless there's some very unusual development, such as Turkish nationalists somehow showing up as suspects - and there's been no evidence of that, I should add - I think, if anything, this will bring the two countries a bit closer together.

MONTAGNE: Peter, thanks very much.

KENYON: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul, Turkey, giving us the latest on today's bombing at the U.S. embassy in the Turkish capital. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.