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Turkey: British Consul General Among Dead In Istanbul Blasts

Istanbul, 20 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Turkish authorities say at least 26 people were killed and about 450 wounded today in twin explosions in busy downtown districts of Istanbul. Trucks loaded with explosives reportedly blew up in front of the British consulate and a building housing the British-based international HSBC bank office.

At least 15 people were reported killed in the consulate, including British Consul General Roger Short. According to witnesses' accounts, he was entering the building as a van trying to force its way through the compound gates exploded.

In another near simultaneous blast the facade of the HSBC 18-story office building was sheared after a truck packed with explosives was detonated in front of the offices.

Pinar Yildiz, a reporter from Turkish Number 1 TV, was on the scene at the HSBC bank and told RFE/RL that the ground was covered with the blood of victims.

"Everyone tried to get their way through, those who were lying on the ground were covered with blood. I think there were many casualties. It was very bad. The women at the bank said the same. They said they were trying to contact [someone outside] but could not. They were many wounded. We took them to Acibadem Hospital in Etiler [district]."

More casualties are feared as rescue workers continue to go through the rubble.

A caller to Turkey's semiofficial Anatolian news agency claimed joint responsibility for the attacks on behalf of Al-Qaeda and the local militant Islamic Great Eastern Raiders' Front.

Turkish authorities said they believe the same groups were behind the 15 November synagogue bombings in Istanbul, which killed 23 people and two attackers and wounded more than 300.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said today in Sweden that Turkey would not "bow to terror."

Turkish Anatolian news agency quoted Gul as saying that the explosions appeared to be linked. "Everyone must know that we will not give up to terrorism," Gul said.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in London that today's attacks and other targets in Istanbul bore all the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda.

He added that: "What has happened in Istanbul this morning are clearly appalling acts of terrorism. We still, obviously, do not have complete details, by any means, but it appears...[the] bomb blasts [were] coordinated."

Straw said Britain was checking on several of its consulate employees who might have been affected by the attack.

The United Sates is following closely the situation in Istanbul, said a White House spokesman who is accompanying the U.S. President George W. Bush on a state visit to Britain.