ISTANBUL (Combined Sources)–Turkish police said Wednesday that they suspect the al-Qaida movement is behind the attack at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul.
Three Turkish police officers and three gunmen were killed in a gunfight on Wednesday.
Witnesses saw four attackers drive a car up to a checkpoint at the high-walled compound and begin firing at police who approached.
City Governor Muammer Guler said one of the police officers died at the scene in a gunbattle lasting about 15 minutes, at a time of day when many Turks go there to apply for visas. Two died of their wounds at a nearby hospital.
"There is no doubt that this is a terrorist attack," Guler said.
Two other people were also injured. Turkey and the United States condemned the attack for which no one has yet claimed responsibility.
However, a police official told The Associated Press that authorities believe al-Qaida is linked to the gunfight.
"It is enough to say they are terrorists who carried out a dastardly and cowardly attack," U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson told a news conference in Ankara. "Our countries stand together in the fight against international terrorism."
Footage from a security camera at the site showed four armed and bearded men emerging from a gray car to kill a traffic policeman, then running toward the guardpost 50 yards away as other policemen fired back, the Dogan news agency reported.
The shootout caused panic and scattered people waiting in line for visas, Dogan said.
U.S. security personnel then ducked inside the compound since they are not authorized to engage in armed action on Turkish soil.
Istanbul prosecutor Aykut Cengiz Engin said the attackers were armed with pistols and shotguns.
The attack coincides with political tensions in Turkey. The ruling party is in a legal fight to avert closure over charges of anti-secular activities and police are probing a shadowy far-right group suspected of plotting a military coup.
Guler said the three dead gunmen were Turkish citizens, believed to be aged 25-30. Police were searching for a man’suspected of driving the car.
Speaking in Sofia, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said no Americans were injured and the United States did not know who was responsible or whether the consulate was a target.
U.S. intelligence sources told NBC News that the attack is seen as particularly troubling because of the recent string of incidents targeting U.S. diplomats around the world.
Yavuz Erkut Yuksel, a witness, told CNN-Turk television that the attackers emerged from a white vehicle.
"One of them approached a policeman while hiding his gun and shot him in the head," Yuksel said.
Enis Yilmaz, who was going to the consulate for a visa application, told Reuters that one of the assailants drove off in a vehicle.
"They (assailants) were four people. Three of them got out of the car and fired at the police. I saw them dead afterwards lying on the ground and many more dead among the police," he said.
The U.S. consulate was moved to a high-security location in 2003 as major consulates and embassies stepped up security following the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York.
The most serious attacks in Turkey were in November, 2003, when 62 people were killed by Islamist militants targeting two synagogues, a bank and the British consulate.
Four people were killed and 15 wounded in an explosion in Istanbul in June 2004, before President George W. Bush visited the city.