Page last updated at 20:35 GMT, Wednesday, 9 July 2008 21:35 UK

'Al-Qaeda links' to Istanbul attack

By David O'Byrne

Aftermath of the attack at the US consulate in Istanbul (9 July 2008)
Turkey has seen armed attacks from a variety of groups over the years

With the identity of three of the four armed men who attacked the US consulate in Istanbul now clearer, speculation is mounting that the attack was the work of a Turkish terror group linked to al-Qaeda.

Reports in the Turkish media have quoted unnamed police officials as confirming that the three attackers who died in the incident have been identified as Turkish citizens from the east of the country, and members of a Turkish Sunni Islamic fundamentalist group.

That group, the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders Front, or IBDA-C as it is more commonly known, is thought to have links to al-Qaeda.

According to some reports, the police have also confirmed that the three had only recently returned to Turkey after a period of time in Afghanistan, which has led to speculation that they may have received training from a militant group.

The attack on Wednesday morning resulted in the deaths of three of the four attackers and three policemen, as well as the wounding of another policeman and a truck driver.

Officials are continuing to appeal to the public for information which could lead to the capture of the fourth attacker and the driver of a grey Ford Focus car - which carried the attackers to the consulate and escaped with the fourth attacker, who is believed to have been wounded.

Following the identification of the attackers, Istanbul police raided a number of addresses across the city and were reported as having taken three people into custody for questioning.

Their names have not been released and no announcement has been made as to their possible connection to the attack.

As yet no clear motive for the attack has been identified and it is still unclear whether the attackers were trying to force entry into the consulate compound or, as some media reports have claimed, simply to attack Turkish police guarding the compound.

Bomb attacks

Founded in the 1970s with the stated aim of re-establishing the Islamic Caliphate in a single united Sunni Islamic state, IBDA-C began using violence to further its aims in the 1990s.

It conducted bomb attacks on bars, restaurants and churches, which resulted in the capture and imprisonment of the group's leaders.

In 2003, the group claimed responsibility for devastating bombings of the British consulate in Istanbul, the local headquarters of the HSBC bank and two synagogues, which together left 58 dead, including British Consul General Roger Short.

Although last year saw the jailing of 48 people for their roles in the bombings - seven of them for life - their connection with IBDA-C is still unclear.

Turkish officials have always maintained that the bombings were the work of a separate group with direct links to al-Qaeda, known as the "Warriors for Islam" and that IBDA-C lacked the organisational ability to launch such a complex operation.

If the perpetrators of the latest attack are found to be members of IBDA-C and the reports of their recent return from Afghanistan prove to be true, the Turkish police may be forced to rethink their opinion of the group.

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