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British tourists in Turkey killed by female suicide bus bomber

July 16, 2005

Holiday bus ride to the beach ends in bloody slaughter
By Elizabeth Day and Nicholas Birch in Istanbul
(Filed: 17/07/2005)

Yesterday looked like the perfect day to head for the beach in Kusadasi. It was 31░C under a cloudless sky and holidaymakers who boarded an early-morning minibus taxi to the nearby Ladies Beach probably had little more on their minds than what factor sun cream to apply.

Then came the carnage. At 10.30am, just as the minibus was approaching its final stop in Ataturk Square, central Kusadasi, a blast ripped through the minibus, blowing off its roof and scattering metal for yards around. Bloodied human remains lay on the road surface.

An unidentified British man is taken to hospital in Izmir

There was a moment of stunned surprise as passers-by struggled to understand what had happened and then the screams came.

The minibus's sides had been ripped open, exposing rows of grey-backed chairs. A man's charred body hung over what remained of a seat.

A few yards away from the beach, an injured woman, her face blackened by the blast, lay in the road signalling for help.

After the initial shock, people ran to the bus and struggled to carry the injured away from the burning wreckage. One witness described the scene as "the gates of hell".

There was a sickening familiarity about the wreckage. Just nine days earlier, a double-decker bus had been blown apart in Tavistock Square in central London by a British-born suicide bomber. Then, as now, the news footage had focused on a clump of barely recognisable metal, spattered with blood.

The local travel agents call Kusadasi "paradise" but even here, it seems, there is no shelter from the suicide-bomber's destruction.

"There was a big bang and I ran to the window" said Resat Erguvan, 52, who was teaching in a private school on the opposite side of the street when the attack happened. "The blast had torn the top off the minibus. There were flames, there was black smoke. It was a horrible scene. At least six of the people I saw lying by the side of the road were seriously injured. Four passengers had been killed on the spot. All along the side of the road people were sitting shocked. Some were crying."

"It's pretty scary," said Sarah Duntich, 27, a British travel agent who has been working in Kusadasi since April. "It's certainly shaken me up but it hasn't made me want to come home to England. After all, there were bombs in London last week, so I don't think it's any safer there than here."

At least six people died - a British woman, two Turks, one Irish national and two others. One of the victims was travelling with Sunworld Ireland, one of several tour agencies operating from the resort.

Fourteen people were believed to be injured, several of them critically ill at the local government hospital.

Six Britons were seriously hurt, among them a 16-year-old boy. Two further Britons escaped with minor injuries. Victims were transferred to the university hospital in Izmir. The owner of the minibus, Ibrahim Ucar, was also taken to hospital.

Internet postings named another fatality as Deniz Tutum, who worked for a "private company".

The number of victims is likely to keep on rising through the following days: a taxi minibus - known as a "dolmus" - can carry up to 20 people.

At first glance, Kusadasi appears to be an unlikely place to stage a terrorist attack.

Situated about 50 miles south of Izmir, on the west coast of Turkey, it is surrounded by long stretches of powdery beach and is reputed to be one of the most attractive cities on the Aegean. A popular nesting place for birds, the name derives from kus (bird) + ada (island). A mild climate allowed the first settlers from central Anatolia to grow essential products such as olives, grapes and figs for extracting oil or making wine on the fertile lands around the city.

It is close to the ancient sites of Ephesus, Didyma, Priene and Miletos, and enjoys unbroken sun for an average 300 days a year.

But like Bali and Egypt - both of which have experienced similarly devastating bomb attacks in the past three years - Kusadasi has embraced the western tourist trade.

Once a sleepy fishing village, it is now one of Turkey's principal resorts. Along the beach front, the promenades have become crowded with holiday apartment blocks, Irish-themed pubs offering full fry-up breakfasts and multi-coloured posters advertising bingo or karaoke nights.

In summer, Kusadasi's native population of about 50,000 Turks swells with the seasonal arrival of thousands of tourists. It is, according to the tour agency Thomas Cook, "a cosmopolitan and lively resortů at night it comes alive with an array of nightspots".

Such excess sits uneasily, perhaps, with a local population that is 99 per cent Sunni Muslim. Off the beaten track, Kusadasi boasts examples of Ottoman and Turkish mosques, including one built by the vizier Okuz Mehmet Pasa in the 17th century. Did these inter-cultural tensions foster extremism? Only time will tell.

For now, a police official said that the preliminary evidence pointed to a female suicide bomber of Turkish nationality.

"We are looking into all possibilities. Among them is the possibility of a girl, aged 16 or 17, acting as a suicide bomber," Ali Baris, the Kusadasi sub-governor told the Anatolia news agency. "There is no definite conclusion yet."

Plastic explosives are suspected to have been used in the attack. Turkish military and intelligence sources say Kurdish separatist rebels are believed to be in possession of hundreds of kilograms of such explosive obtained from Iraq.

Unconfirmed intelligence reports say the rebels have sent about 70 suicide bombers to big cities in Turkey.

Earlier this month a bomb hidden in a soft drinks can wounded 21 people, including three foreign tourists, in the Aegean coastal town of Cesme. On April 30 a bomb in a cassette player killed a police officer and left four others wounded in Kusadasi. A Kurdish guerrilla group that called itself the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons Organ responsibility for both attacks and vowed to maintain assaults against tourist areas.

Although no group has yet claimed responsibility, Turkey has long been the target of deadly attacks blamed on local extremists linked with the al-Qaeda network. Two attacks in Istanbul on November 15 and 20 2003 killed 63 people and wounded some 750 others, when suicide bombers detonated explosive-laden trucks first at two synagogues and then at the British consulate and the HSBC bank.

A parcel bomb left in a public lavatory in the same part of Kusadasi exploded in the hands of a bomb disposal officer in April, killing the man and injuring four other policemen.

Yet tourism has thrived unabated. Last year British holidaymakers numbered 10,800. In 2005 the figure is expected to top 15,000 - up 45.2 per cent. A spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents estimated that the number of Britons currently in the region would be in the "high hundreds or low thousands".

"All the big tour operators go there and it is very popular for package deals," he said. "It is not the school holidays yet and so there will not be many families there but Turkey is always seen as a good-value destination."

But yesterday's events are already making Kusadasi's tourists and residents feel uneasy, despite a rapid statement issued by Sir Peter Westmacott, the British ambassador to Turkey, in which he insisted that Britain would "stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Turkey, in sympathy and in refusal to allow terrorists to destroy our values and our liberty".

According to the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it will never be possible to safeguard "100 per cent" against future acts of terrorism, "no matter how strict security measures you take". In an era of international bombing and bloodshed, there is no longer a place of greater safety.

At home, nine days ago, commuters on their way to work faced the bomb blasts of a morning rush-hour. As the holidaymakers made their way to the beach in sun-drenched Kusadasi yesterday, the London attacks must have seemed very far away. But then a single moment brought them horribly close. In this uncertain world, even paradise cannot escape the grip of the suicide bomber.

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