Turkish bombing case defendant denies wider links
06 Aug 2004
ISTANBUL, Aug 6 (Reuters) - A Turkish defendant accused of involvement in the bombing of an Istanbul freemasons' lodge said on Friday the attackers had no links to any militant group, the state-run Anatolian news agency reported.
The attack in March killed one of two bombers and a waiter. It fuelled security worries in Turkey's biggest city after a series of suicide bombings in November, blamed on Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, killed more than 60 people.
An Istanbul court on Friday began hearing the trial of 18 defendants accused of links to the lodge bombing. Three of the 13 defendants in custody were released on bail.
Engin Vural, accused of being one of the bombers, told the court the attack was carried out on a personal initiative.
"This was a personal act, we have no link to any organisation ... We decided that if any action was to be carried out it should target the masons as their activities are against Turkey," Anatolian reported him as saying.
Vural and four others are charged with "trying to change the constitutional order by force" and face a life sentence if convicted. The other defendants face lesser charges.
Vural said he planned the attack with the dead bomber and met another of the defendants in Kashmir, where he had gone for religious education in 2000. He also spent time in Chechnya for "humanitarian reasons".
In the March 9 attack two assailants wearing flak jackets first opened fire on the lodge. One of two bombers failed to detonate his explosives and was taken to hospital with four wounded freemasons and a security guard. Local television stations reported the bombers chanted Islamist slogans.
The attack came four months after suicide truck bombings, one of the worst spates of peacetime violence in modern Turkish history, targeted two synagogues, the British Consulate and London-based HSBC bank.
Freemasonry has long claimed followers in Muslim but secular Turkey among prominent businessmen, academics and politicians. In some Islamic countries they have been targets of hostility because of suspected Christian links.
Freemasons trace their roots to the medieval guilds that built cathedrals in Europe. A secretive, ritualistic group, it claims more than 10,000 members in Turkey