ANKARA, Turkey – In the second deadly assault on a U.S. diplomatic post in five months, a suicide bomber struck the American Embassy in Ankara on Friday, killing a Turkish security guard in what the White House described as a terrorist attack.
Washington immediately warned Americans to stay away from all U.S. diplomatic facilities in Turkey and to be wary in large crowds.
Turkish officials said the bombing was linked to leftist domestic militants.
The attack drew condemnation from Turkey, the U.S., Britain and other nations and officials from both Turkey and the U.S. pledged to work together to fight terrorism.
“We strongly condemn what was a suicide attack against our embassy in Ankara, which took place at the embassy’s outer security perimeter,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
“A suicide bombing on the perimeter of an embassy is by definition an act of terror,” he said. “It is a terrorist attack.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said police believe the bomber was connected to a domestic leftist militant group. Carney, however, said the motive for the attack and who was behind it was not known.
A Turkish TV journalist was seriously wounded in the 1:15 p.m. blast in the Turkish capital, and two other guards had lighter wounds, officials said.
The state-run Anadolu Agency identified the bomber as Ecevit Sanli. It said the 40-year-old Turkish man was a member of the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP-C, which has claimed responsibility for assassinations and bombings since the 1970s.
The group has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States but had been relatively quiet in recent years.
The U.S. Embassy building in Ankara is heavily protected and located near several other embassies, including those of Germany and France.
Friday’s bombing occurred inside the security checkpoint at the side entrance to the U.S. Embassy, which is used by staff. The guard who was killed was standing outside the checkpoint, while the two wounded guards “were standing in a more protected area,” said Interior Minister Muammer Guler said.
The two were treated on the scene and did not require hospital treatment, he said.
The Hurriyet newspaper said staff at the embassy took shelter in a “safe room” inside the compound soon after the explosion.
Police swarmed the area and immediately cordoned it off. Forensic investigators in white outfits and gloves soon combed the site.
TV news video showed the embassy door blown off its hinges. The blast also shattered the windows of nearby businesses, littering debris on the ground and across the road. The inside of the embassy did not appear to be damaged.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the attack “in the strongest terms” and said Turkey and the U.S. will get the U.K.’s full support as they seek to hold those responsible to account.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a message to President Barack Obama, saying he was “shocked and saddened to learn of the vicious terrorist attack.”
Ed Royce, the chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the attack was “another stark reminder of the constant terrorist threat against U.S. facilities, personnel and interests abroad.”
“Coming after Benghazi, it underscores the need for a comprehensive review of security at our diplomatic posts. The committee stands ready to assist the State Department in protecting our diplomats,” he said in a statement.
Turkey’s parliament speaker, Cemil Cicek, linked Friday’s attack to the arrest last month of nine Turkish human rights lawyers, who prosecutors have accused of links to the DHKP-C.
James F. Jeffrey, a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who was U.S. ambassador in Turkey between 2008 and 2010, said DHKP-C was a resilient group that had been “relatively quiescent” in recent years. He said the organization was born out of the 1970s European tradition of pro-communist terrorism, and he drew a parallel with Germany’s now-defunct Baader-Meinhof gang.
“I do not see them as a major threat compared to al-Qaida,” Jeffrey said of DHKP-C in a conference call with journalists. The group, he said, typically attacks with small arms and conducts periodic assaults “just to make sure people know they’re still out there.”