"Al-Qaeda link" to US consulate gunfight in Istanbul

Three police officers and three gunmen with alleged links to al-Qaeda were killed in a firefight outside the main gate of the United states consulate in Istanbul Wednesday morning, the dpa reported.

Witnesses said a car slowed down and stopped outside the main gate of the consulate in the suburb of Istinye. Three of the passengers got out of the car and fired at police, starting a firefight that lasted between seven and eight minutes.

Istanbul Governor Muammer Guler told reporters at the scene that three attackers, all Turkish nationals, and one police officer were declared dead at the scene and that two police officers were later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Guler said that two police officers were wounded in the attack and were being treated for non life-threatening injuries at a local hospital.

The driver of the car reportedly fled the scene, sparking a large- scale police search.

NTV quoted unnamed sources that the three dead attackers had undertaken training at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and that police were looking into any links between Wednesday's attack and al-Qaeda bomb attacks in 2003 on the British consulate, the Istanbul headquarters of the HSBC Bank and two synagogues, that left more than 60 people dead.

Istanbul Chief Prosecutor Aykut Cengiz Engin touring the scene said that the attackers armed with handguns and pump-action shotguns were aged between 25 and 30 and that investigators were seeking to find whether the gunmen had any links to any known terrorist groups.

"We are treating this as a terrorist attack," Engin said at the scene.

US Ambassador Ross Wilson told reporters in Ankara that all US personnel at the consulate were safe and accounted and expressed his country's sadness over the loss of Turkish lives.

He said the embassy had not received any threats in recent days and that US security officials were cooperating with Turkish police to solve what he described as a "dastardly and cowardly act".

"It is inappropriate now to speculate who was responsible for this or what why they carried out this action. It is an obvious act of terrorism. Our countries will stand together to confront this as we have confronted similar problems in the past," Wilson said.

Wilson also said that he had asked for extra security at US consulates and at the embassy in Ankara.

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