The city streets 'were crimson with blood'

 

Turkey: Just before 11 o'clock yesterday morning Ayse Kaya was shopping with her mother in preparation for next week's Seker Bayram, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, write Nicholas Birch in Istanbul

"We were looking for presents for my two children," she said, white-faced and holding tightly onto her mother's arm.

"And then the bomb struck. I've never seen such horror. The streets were crimson with blood. There were dead and wounded people lying all over the place."

Around the British consulate, barely 70 metres away from one of Istanbul's busiest shopping streets, the devastation was appalling. All that remains of the two consular buildings that surrounded the heavily guarded main entrance of the compound is a three-metre-high pile of grey rubble and twisted metal. Thirty metres of the consulate's red brick wall has disappeared. The rest sags out over the pavement.

"The force of the explosion threw everybody to the ground," said Celal Korkunc, who has worked as a security official at the consulate for 10 months.

"We were half buried in rubble. When the salvage crews pulled us out, I saw that nothing was left of the 1½-ton security gate that led into the compound. It had been blown away."

Ansel Mullins, an American working in offices 50 metres away, was at the scene within minutes. "The closer you got to the main entrance of the consulate, the worse the damage was," he said.

"On the corner there were two cars, both totally burned. One had been flipped over. I saw a man lying between them in the street. A minute later, two men came out of a nearby shop and covered him with a piece of blue tarpaulin. I guess he was dead."

Within 15 minutes of the blasts, Turkish security forces cordoned off a huge triangle surrounding the consulate. Traffic on the wide road that runs directly behind was stopped, causing massive congestion in central Istanbul.

As crowds gathered to watch the salvage efforts from afar, one enterprising street seller was hawking hand-held radios at €2 a piece.

Barber Celal Gurbuz was offering free haircuts. "I've just come back from taking one of my customers to hospital," he said, gesturing to the shattered remains of his shop window.

"I need to be doing something to take my mind off things."

Over in Levent, the scenes outside the headquarters of HSBC Bank were no better.

"This looks as though it was bigger than the bomb attacks this weekend," said rescue worker Tarhan Bulan, standing in the broad avenue that runs in front of the 20-storey building.

The bank's white marble casing was blown off by the blast, and a huge fountain of water from its fire extinguisher system spurted out on to the plaza in front.

The skyscraper 150 metres away on the other side of Buyukdere Avenue lost all its windows.

Six hundred people are thought to have been in the HSBC building when the explosion happened. Although many may have been saved because they were at a meeting at the back of the building, some may have died, said Tarhan Bulan.

"I saw between six and 10 bodies," he said.

"Most were in front of the bank, but there were several inside the lobby."

Beyhan Saltan was in her office on the first floor when the blast occurred.

"The roof partially collapsed and the fire extinguisher system went on," she said. "It looked like a scene from hell, and everybody was panicking."

"The whole building swayed, like in an earthquake," said Ozgur Sahin, two floors above.

"There was thick smoke and an overpowering smell of ammonia, and it was almost impossible to breathe."

Nobody knows for sure what bombs were used or where they were planted. Frequent eyewitness references to the smell of ammonia suggest they could have been similar to Saturday's bombs, which were made from a mixture of ammonium sulphate, nitrate and compressed fuel.

Eyewitnesses in Levent reported seeing a green van slowing at the traffic lights in front of the bank before exploding. Near the consulate, shopkeeper Hakan Ozan was convinced he saw the bomber.

"I saw a white van, going fast, cross Istiklal street and go into the narrow lane that leads up to the consulate," he said.

"Ten seconds later, there was a huge explosion. The sun was blocked out by a cloud of yellowish smoke."

In the market just next to the consulate, the white tarpaulin covering stalls was ripped off. Strands hung down onto the floor covered with splinters of glass and goods upended by the force of the blast. A couple of hopeful fishmongers continued to tip cold water over their morning's catch.

Visibly angry, Bulent Arikan, an elderly shopkeeper, picked up shards of glass that had covered stacks of honey pots and spices. "God damn the people who planted the bombs," he said. "What have any of us done to deserve this?"