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Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2007, 19:31 GMT
Istanbul uncowed since 2003 blasts
A Turkish court has sentenced seven people to life in prison for suicide bombings in 2003 that killed 58 people. Twenty-six people were acquitted and 48 others were sentenced to terms ranging from 18 years to three years and nine months. The BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Istanbul looks at the ongoing effects of the attacks.

Istanbul skyline
A series of bombs were set off in Istanbul in 2003
The high-rise block that once housed the head office of HSBC bank now stands empty in the business district of Istanbul.

In November 2003 the bank was hit by a suicide truck bomber.

The attack was part of a wave of suicide bombings that also targeted the British Consulate and two synagogues.

More than three years on, a huge advertisement that was wrapped around the shell of the HSBC tower is torn and gapes open in the wind.

The shattered building is a constant reminder of the bombings and the desperate chaos they caused.

But while HSBC moved premises, the bank did not abandon Turkey and the synagogues and British Consulate were reopened within the year.

What happened here was terrible - but it was also a real wake-up call
Galit Sukaya

If the attacks were meant to destabilise Turkey and frighten foreigners and foreign capital away, most people here believe they failed.

"In trade terms, the overall trend between Turkey and Britain is upwards," says Peter Cook, of the British Consulate.

He says some trade missions and conferences were cancelled in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, but the impact was temporary.

Since 2003, the volume of trade between the UK and Turkey has almost doubled.

"There have been lots of positive developments since then, plenty of firms looking for opportunities here in Turkey," he says.

Increased security

The trial of more than 70 men accused of involvement in the Istanbul bombings has revealed a network of home-grown Islamic extremists with close ties to al-Qaeda.

Many defendants spent time in terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and sent fighters to wage Jihad, or holy war, in places like Chechnya and Bosnia.

According to statements made in court and to police, the plotters were initially focused on sites linked to the US or Israel. The British targets were added in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq.

But most of the dead and injured were local Turks.

"Before the bombing I think we thought because Turks are Muslim, this country would not be targeted. What happened here was terrible - but it was also a real wake-up call," reflects Turkish-American businessman Galit Sukaya.

He says the authorities' rapid response to the bombing was an important reassurance both for expatriates living here, and for business.

"I think Turkey realised then that there is a real problem to address, and it is addressing it," Mr Sukaya said, recalling the recent arrest of more than 40 suspected al-Qaeda operatives in a major security sweep, including a man calling himself the leader of al-Qaeda in Turkey.

The bombings sparked a major review of security measures by many businesses.

Turkish security
Security has been tightened in the wake of the terror attacks

Armed guards, x-ray machines and metal detectors are now ubiquitous, even in the shopping malls that have sprouted like mushrooms across Istanbul in recent years.

With the old threat of political violence and attacks by Kurdish separatists waning, for many the 2003 bombing reconfirmed the need to reinforce precautions.

"The bombing was a real shock to the system," a European businessman recalls. He also confirms that it failed to provoke a mass foreign exodus from the country.

"There was a real sense of optimism about Turkey at the time, so the bomb really caught people off guard.

"But the positive momentum here was too strong. Moments like that do not destroy the mood the way those who carried out the attacks were hoping."


As the three-year-long trial ground towards its final stages this week, tourists wandering Istiklal Street in central Istanbul struggled to remember anything about the bombings.

"It was years ago," one Dutch man said. "It didn't even cross my mind when I was planning to come here."

The attacks do not appear to have affected expatriate life either.

There are 2,500 registered British expatriates in Istanbul and an estimated three times more unregistered.

Britons are still snapping-up second homes on the Turkish coast, and more British holidaymakers are visiting the country each year.

Peter Clark arrived in Istanbul shortly after the suicide bomb attacks and says he did not think twice about his selection.

"Madrid, New York, London - Istanbul. Where do you go? You can't hide."

Turkey bomb 'linchpin' on trial
20 Mar 06 |  Europe
Country profile: Turkey
25 Oct 06 |  Country profiles

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