Turkey’s interior minister, Muammer Guler, said law-enforcement authorities had information the bomber was a member was a Turkish man in his 30s who had been previously jailed on terrorism charges and was a known member of the outlawed leftist group, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP-C.
In a statement on the website Halkin Sesi, which is affiliated with the group, DKHP-C said the attack was in retaliation for U.S. imperialism and Turkey’s submission to American colonialism. The website, which translates as “People’s Voice,” also posted two photos of the alleged bomber, Ecevit Alisan Sanli. The site called on followers to go to the Black Sea province of Ordu in Turkey’s northeast to attend Mr. Sanli’s funeral.
The DHKP-C, which wants a socialist state and is vehemently anti-American, according to the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. The group has been relatively quiet in recent years, but has used suicide bombers in the past.
The alleged bomber came from Germany via Greek islands, according to Turkey’s Anatolia news agency.
Mr. Sanli was jailed following his conviction in connection with a terror attack on a military recreational facility in Istanbul in 1997, and was released from prison in 2001, according to the Turkish Interior Ministry.
The attack comes against the backdrop of the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, assault on U.S. posts in Benghazi, Libya. In the aftermath of that attack, in which four Americans including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens were killed, lawmakers faulted State Department security procedures, while officials there said Congress had cut its security budgets.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the fact that the bomber struck at a perimeter checkpoint showed the post in Turkey had sufficient protection. “The level of security protection at our facility in Ankara ensured that there were not significantly more deaths and injuries,” she said. She said the checkpoint where the blast occurred was “far from the main building.”
Two other guards were “shaken up” in Friday’s attack, the U.S. official said, and a Turkish visitor was in serious condition. Several U.S. and Turkish staff members at the embassy were struck by flying debris and were released after treatment at an embassy clinic.
The Ankara blast occurred on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton‘s last day on the job. John Kerry is taking over as the chief U.S. diplomat, leaving his seat as a Democratic U.S. senator from Massachusetts. Mr. Kerry’s staff was briefed as quickly as State Department officials received information, Ms. Nuland said.
Mrs. Clinton spoke by phone with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and with U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, Ms. Nuland said. She also spoke with senior embassy staffers.
In addition to declaring the blast a terrorist attack, the State Department said the incident illustrates the need for congressional funding for improvements in diplomatic security. Ms. Nuland said that the Ankara post has been steadily upgraded over the past decade, but that it is a 1950s building due to be upgraded.
“Ankara is one of the posts that is due for a completely new embassy compound in the future, and it is one of the posts that will go on the lists if the department gets the money that we are looking from the Congress for security,” she said.
Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.), chairman of the House foreign-affairs committee, said the bombing in Turkey is another reminder of the threat against U.S. interests abroad. “Coming after Benghazi, it underscores the need for a comprehensive review of security at our diplomatic posts,” he said. “The committee stands ready to assist the State Department in protecting our diplomats.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), who was especially critical of the State Department over the Benghazi attack, said reports on Friday indicated that protective measures in place in Ankara succeeded in limiting deaths and injuries, and showed the importance of physical security standards.
“Unfortunately, it confirms in my mind … that these were the kinds of physical security standards that should have been in place in Benghazi before the September 11, 2012 attack,” she said.
In Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the attack showed a need for international cooperation against terrorism and was aimed at disturbing Turkey’s “peace and prosperity.”
Analysts said early evidence suggested the attack bears little resemblance to the Libya assault. “This attack looks amateurish and not very well organized. It seems very different from the Benghazi operation,” said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat in Istanbul, now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Analysts said that militant leftist groups, although marginal, have mobilized against Ankara’s cooperation with its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies and Washington during the Syria crisis. Some 50 alleged members of the DHKP-C, including nine lawyers who have represented it, were detained in a recent police operation.
Turkish media reported that DHKP-C members in January assaulted German troops they mistook for U.S. soldiers who were accompanying a Patriot-missile battery in southern Turkey set to be deployed along the Syrian border.
“Although such groups represent a marginal political current, they could have an outsized impact. Iranian and Russian media have covered these incidents extensively in order to feed an anti-NATO slant and increase Ankara’s political costs for supporting the Syrian opposition,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkey Research Program at the Washington Institute, a think tank. “This narrative could spur further unrest in Turkey, amplifying perceptions of instability.”
The U.S. moved its consulate in Istanbul to a safer location on top of a hill from a busy and cramped downtown district after a 2003 al Qaeda attack on the U.K. consulate a few blocks away. In four bombings during November 2003, the terrorist organization targeted two synagogues, the British consulate and the local headquarters killing 67 people.
In 2008, three Turkish nationals fired on the policemen outside the U.S. Istanbul consulate, killing three officers. All three assailants were shot dead at the scene. There was speculation that the attackers were al Qaeda members, but local authorities never confirmed that, saying only that they were terrorists.
—Peter Nicholas and Siobhan Gorman in Washington contributed to this article. (Feb.2, 2013)