Two killed in Istanbul bomb attacks

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The Independent Online

Explosions rocked two small hotels and a gas plant in Istanbul early today in apparent terrorist attacks, killing two people and injuring seven others.

Explosions rocked two small hotels and a gas plant in Istanbul early today in apparent terrorist attacks, killing two people and injuring seven others.

A gas leak at the liquefied petroleum gas plant, where cooking gas canisters were filled, was under control, said Tayfun Demiroren, an official at the plant. He said two bombs were placed under storage tanks at the plant on the outskirts of Istanbul.

The explosions took place half an hour apart and shortly after an anonymous bomb threat, police said. There were no casualties.

The assailants entered the plant after cutting the barbed wire, Demiroren said.

Two earlier explosions rocked inexpensive hotels at around 2am (2300 GMT), police said.

Workers at one of the targeted hotels, Pars, in the Laleli district, home to budget hotels and clothing stores catering for eastern European tourists, said they received an anonymous call only 10 minutes before the explosion saying there was a bomb in a room, Anatolia news agency reported.

At the second target, the Star Holiday Hotel in the Sultanahmet area, where the Ottoman Topkapi Palace is located, glass and chunks of concrete littered the streets behind the hotel.

"It appears to be a terrorist attack," police chief Celalettin Cerrah told Anatolia.

Police said two people were killed at the Pars hotel, while there were injuries at both hotels.

The blasts happened a few miles from the hotel where the US Olympic men's basketball team was staying during the final stop of its pre-Olympic tour. The team toured Topkapi Palace yesterday, guarded by a large contingent of police. They are due to play Turkey in an exhibition game tonight.

A spokesman for the team was not aware of the bombings until being contacted by a reporter.

Police cordoned off the area around the Star Holiday Hotel, only a few hundred yards from the Saint Sophia and the Sultanahmet mosque. A forensic police team was behind the hotel photographing damage.

"There was a huge explosion and the glass started shattering," said Umut Akgul, who was visiting a friend who works at the Star Holiday Hotel at the time of the blast. Akgul said he ran to the back of the hotel and started to help evacuate tourists after the explosion, which ripped off the exterior walls of the top two floors of the hotel.

There were 37 guests at the Pars hotel at the time of the blast.

The three-storey Star Holiday Holiday hotel had 20 guests at the time of the explosion, officials said.

Security concerns in Turkey have been heightened since last November, when four suicide truck bombings blamed on al Qaida killed more than 60 people in Istanbul.

In 1996, an underground Islamic group, Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility for an arson attack on a hotel in Laleli that killed 17 Ukrainian tourists. The group said at the time it had attacked the hotel to punish two Ukrainian women who reportedly were giving information to Russian authorities about Turkish Islamic fighters volunteering to fight alongside Chechen rebels.