In Turkey simultaneous explosions in the tourist areas of Istanbul killed two people and injured several others early Tuesday morning. But officials doubt a claim that an al Qaeda-link group orchestrated it.
Explosions rocked two hotels in popular Istanbul tourist areas
Initially, Turkish authorities blamed the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) for the attacks. To back to claim, Turkish Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu noted that four suspected PKK members had recently been arrested in Istanbul who were believed to have been responsible for several attacks on officials traveling with a Turkish provincial governor in southern Turkey.
Later in the day, however, a previously unknown group claiming to have ties to the al Qaeda terrorist network sought to take claim for the bombings. In a statement posted on the Internet, the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigade, named for the al Qaeda commander killed in Afghanistan, also threatened further attacks on other European countries, saying the attacks in Istanbul were only the first of a series. Turkish officials said they doubted the group's claim, and other international authorities also noted the group had made claims to causing power outages in North America in the past that were untrue.
At around 2 a.m. Tuesday morning, Istanbul time, separate bombs exploded at two small hotels in Istanbul and at gas plant. Police said the bombings bore the hallmarks of a terrorist attack.
Police guard the front of the Holiday Hotel after a bombing in Istanbul, Turkey, on Tuesday.
Within minutes bomb blasts hit two small hotels in the tourist area of Istanbul and a gas plant on the outskirts of the city. Two people have died, including two men from Iran and Turkey, and nine others were injured, -- many of them foreign tourists including Dutch, Chinese, Turkmenistan and Ukraine nationals.
A wave of attacks in Turkey
Turkey has been the target of several bomb attacks recently -- with over 60 people killed in four suicide bomb attacks on British and Jewish targets in the city last November. Only two months ago four people were killed and 15 wounded in an explosion on a bus, shortly before a major NATO summit in the city.
At the time of Tuesday's explosion, police said 37 people were staying in the Pars Hotel, which is situated in Istanbul's Laleli district -- an area popular with Eastern European tourists for its inexpensive hotels and clothing stores. Hotel staff reported receiving an anonymous phone call ten minutes before the blast informing them a bomb had been placed in one of the rooms.
Known popularly as the "Blue Mosque," Istanbul's Sultanahmet mosque is one of the city's most-important religious sites and tourist attractions.
Another explosion rocked the Holiday Hotel in the popular tourist district of Sultanahmet with around 20 guests inside. The hotel was only a few hundred meters from the Saint Sophia and the Sultanahmet mosque (photo) in the historical heart of Istanbul. The area is home to many of the cities Byzantine and Ottomon monuments.
The Turkish Anatolian news agency has reported that police were searching other hotels in the area hotels for suspects and other explosive devices.
In a separate attack on the outskirts of the city two bombs exploded at a filling station for gas cooking canisters. Four people working there were unharmed, and a gas leak had been brought under control. Officials at the plant said they had received a bomb threat and that intruders had cut through a barbed wire fence at the complex and placed two bombs under storage tanks.
Istanbul's Police Chief, Celalettin Cerrah, said the explosions appeared to be terrorist attacks. The city, the commercial and tourist capital of Turkey has been on high alert since November's attacks.