Istanbul 'bombers' declare war on Europe

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The Independent Online

The Islamist militant group claiming responsibility for simultaneous bombs that ripped through two Istanbul hotels yesterday, killing two people and injuring nine, said the blasts were the first of a "wave of operations" in European countries and worse was to come.

The Islamist militant group claiming responsibility for simultaneous bombs that ripped through two Istanbul hotels yesterday, killing two people and injuring nine, said the blasts were the first of a "wave of operations" in European countries and worse was to come.

The militant group, Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, posted its message on the internet after bombs exploded in two low-budget hotels on the fringe of Istanbul's Old City tourist district and at a liquified petroleum gas storage plant in an outlying suburb. The statement said: "Istanbul is the opening for the bloody war we promised the Europeans".

Counter-terrorism experts have questioned the credibility of Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades as it has falsely claimed responsibility for incidents in the past such as power failures in Britain and North America. The group takes its name from a top al-Qa'ida lieutenant who was killed in a US air strike in Afghanistan in 2001.

Workers at the Pars Hotel in the Laleli district, where inexpensive hotels cater to Eastern European tourists, said they received an anonymous call saying there was a bomb in a room only 10 minutes before the blast. An Iranian national and a Turk were killed in the explosion.

At the Star Holiday Hotel, a few hundred yards from landmarks such as the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia, shards of glass and chunks of concrete littered the streets. The explosion at 2am ripped off the exterior walls of the top two floors. Officials said all but two of the injured were tourists - four Spaniards, two Dutch, a Ukrainian and two Chinese.

Tayfun Demiroren, an official at the gas plant where the third bomb exploded half an hour after the hotel bombs, said two devices had been placed under storage tanks. There were no casualties at the plant and a gas leak had been brought under control, he said.

The explosions came shortly after an anonymous bomb threat, police said. Investigators were focusing on a Kurdish rebel group which ended a four-year ceasefire in June. Kongra-Gel, an offshoot of the defunct PKK, had threatened to target Turkey's tourist destinations.

Clashes between the rebels and Turkish troops in the country's south-east have intensified in recent weeks. The explosions came only hours after the arrest of four Kurdish militants in Istanbul. Reports said militants were preparing large-scale attacks in the city.

Security has been tight in Istanbul since last November when four simultaneous suicide bombings by Islamist militants killed more than 60 people, including the British consul general.

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