Middle East

Suicide bomber kills police officer in Istanbul attack

ISTANBUL: A suicide bomber said to be from an outlawed leftwing extremist group blew himself up at a police station in Istanbul Tuesday, killing a Turkish police officer and wounding seven other people.

The attack, a rare suicide bombing in the country, occurred in an Alawite-majority area of Turkey's largest city, where deadly unrest had erupted almost two decades ago.

The Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), which the United States and the EU lists as a terrorist group, claimed responsibility, the pro-government Sabah newspaper reported on its website.

"I strongly condemn this disgustful terrorist attack at our police station carried out by terrorist groups chasing outdated ideologies," President Abdullah Gul was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.

Althought suicide bombings are rare, the country has nevertheless witnessed numerous attacks by Kurdish rebels as well as Islamists and leftwing extremists.

"The suicide bomber set off the explosives on him after throwing a grenade into the police station, and killed one police officer and wounded four others at the entry," Istanbul police chief Huseyin Capkin told reporters, adding that three civilians were also slightly injured.

The Hurriyet newspaper identified the bomber as 39-year-old Ibrahim Cuhadar, although Capkin had described the assailant as a 25-year-old man.

Riot police, reinforced by armoured tanks and water cannon, sealed off the area of the attack in Gazi, an Alawite-dominated area in the European sector of Istanbul.

Police stations in the neighbourhood had been fortified after four days of demonstrations and deadly unrest in 1995 which killed 23 people, 17 of them by police bullets, according to forensics reports.

Some witnesses to Tuesday's attack spoke of a second bomber, a man aged around 35, who was severely wounded.

"I went into the (station) yard, but a police officer forced me out and said there was a second bomber who did not explode his bomb. I saw him lying on the ground with no legs," said Meral Yildiz, a 50-year-old housewife.

Police did not however confirm the presence of a second bomber.

Turkey's security forces and police stations are often the target of attacks by the outlawed Kurdish rebel group the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), as well as Islamists and leftwing extremists.

The DHKP-C has been behind numerous attacks against the Turkish state that have left dozens of people dead since 1976, including two retired generals and a former justice minister.

Last month, a car bomb exploded near a police station in the southeastern city of Gaziantep, setting set fire to several vehicles, including a city bus carrying civilians.

Nine people, four of them children, were killed and almost 70 were wounded in the attack blamed on the PKK but which was denied by the rebel group.

Gaziantep lies not far from the border with Syria, where a brutal conflict that began as a peaceful uprising against President Bashar al-Assad has now killed around 27,000 people, according to activists.

Turkey, a one-time Syria ally which is now vehemently opposed to Assad's Alawite-led regime, has taken in tens of thousands of refugees from the conflict.

The so-called Gazi riots in 1995 were triggered after unidentified assailants randomly opened fire on people in the neighbourhood, killing two people including an Alawite religious leader and wounding dozens more.

Locals blamed the deaths on an inadequate police response and overran police stations, leading to four days of deadly unrest.

The Alawite community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, numbers around seven million in Sunni-majority Turkey, which has a total population of 73 million.





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