Channel News Asia
11 March 2004
Suicide bombers in Istanbul wanted to burn freemasons alive: reports
ISTANBUL : Two suicide bombers, believed to be Islamic militants, who attacked a masonic lodge in Istanbul this week wanted to burn the freemasons alive with explosives and petrol, newspapers said.
Officials have ruled out any link between this attack and those carried out by suicide bombers in November against two synagogues, a British-owned bank and the British consulate.
The November attacks, with bomb-laden trucks, left 63 dead and hundreds injured and were blamed on a small Islamist group with links to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terror network.
The attack on the lodge Tuesday -- the first here against freemasons -- targetted members of the Association of the Grand Temple of Free and Accepted Masons of Turkey.
Two people were killed, including one suicide bomber, and six wounded, including a second suicide bomber whose bombs failed to properly detonate.
The condition of the second bomber, who lost an arm and a hand and sustained serious stomach wounds, was described as serious by doctors who operated on him.
The two men, armed with automatic weapons, wore hunting-like jackets stuffed with 14 nail-filled pipe-bombs wired to electric batteries, and carried four bottles filled with petrol when they entered the ground-floor masonic restaurant where some 40 people were dining, on the Asian side of the city.
They opened fire on the diners and one attacker blew himself up at the entrance to the restaurant, killing himself and a 47-year-old waiter.
Several of the explosives carried by the second bomber failed to detonate and none of the petrol caught fire, newspapers said.
Officials said the two men, in their 30s, were believed to be Islamic militants, but did not elaborate.
Of the 41 people dining in the restaurant only four were wounded. A guard on duty outside the building was also hurt by the attackers.
Newspapers here suggested the attack was carried out by "amateurs".
Istanbul police chief Celalettin Cerrah has nevertheless called for a press blackout to allow investigators to follow up all possible leads, Anatolia news agency said.
The motive of the attack remained unclear, but the surviving attacker was shown on television yelling "Damn Israel, long live ..." as he was rushed to hospital late Tuesday.
Many Jewish businessmen and intellectuals are believed to belong to Turkey's five masonic organizations, which have some 14,000 members and which are viewed with suspicion by ultra-nationalists and by Islamists who associate them with Zionists.
The masonic lodge targetted in the bombing has condemned the incident as an attack against "modern and secular Turkish society."
Istanbul's governor, Muammer Guler, said police were working flat-out to clear up the case, adding that the press would be briefed "within a day or two" as to the results of the investigation.
But the latest attack has sparked renewed concern in Istanbul over possible terrorist threats.
Turkish authorities, preparing for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit to be held here in late June, are already planning on closing part of the city to traffic and to suspend shipping through the Bosphorus for two days to guard against the chance of terrorists blowing up a ship in the sea corridor which bisects the city.