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U.S.: Too Early To Implicate Al-Qaeda In Consulate Attack

A police officer stands guard near the U.S. consulate following the gun battle
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. State Department says it's too early to say whether Al-Qaeda was involved in the deadly attack outside a U.S. consulate in Turkey.

Gunmen opened fire on a guard post at the consulate building in Istanbul on July 9. Turkish police returned fire in a gun battle that left three militants and three police dead.

The U.S. and Turkish governments immediately described the incident as a terrorist attack.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says it is unclear at this point whether Al-Qaeda was involved, as some Turkish statements have claimed.

"I can't refute them, I can't support them at this point," McCormack said. "In terms of our view, it's too early to tell in the investigation. I think -- at least the news report that I saw says the Turkish police couched it in terms of suspicions. I think certainly at this point one can't rule that out, but I also can't support, at this point, those suspicions."

No Claim Of Responsibility

There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, which occurred in a residential neighborhood of the city.

No one inside the consulate was injured or killed. McCormack said all its employees were secured inside the building, and the facility was locked down until it was determined that all danger had passed. The employees were then allowed to leave.

McCormack said that for security reasons, the consulate will be open on July 10 for all except consular business. Security also was increased at all other U.S. diplomatic missions.

The incident, captured on a security camera, began about 11 a.m. Istanbul time when four men armed with pistols and shotguns stepped from a car near the consulate and shot a traffic officer in the head. They then ran about 45 meters to a guard post and exchanged fire with Turkish guards there.

Several people standing in line to apply for visas to the United States ran off, and U.S. security officials secured a fence around the perimeter of the consulate compound. The consulate building itself is nearly 100 meters from the gate that came under attack, McCormack said.

Muammer Guler, the governor of Istanbul, said at least one of the attackers survived the gun battle and drove away. He is the subject of a manhunt.

'Grateful For Their Sacrifice'

Guler said at least two of the attackers were Turkish nationals. But Turkish officials said their identities and other information were being withheld so as not to compromise the investigation.

McCormack said the United States owes a debt of gratitude to the Turkish security personnel who resisted the attack.

"We express our deepest condolences to the families of the three Turkish police officers killed, as well as their colleagues who were wounded in the attack," he said. "We are grateful for their sacrifice and their service. The Turkish police responded quickly and effectively. We deeply appreciate their courage in protecting the American diplomats. And we also appreciate Turkish President [Abdullah] Gul's condemnation of the attack, and the support of Turkish officials in Ankara and Istanbul."

Security at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul was tightened after suicide bombings in 2003 in Istanbul by local militants linked to Al-Qaeda. Those attacks killed 58 people at the British consulate, a major British bank, and two synagogues.
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