|Three unidentified gunmen and three Turkish policemen were killed Wednesday in an attack on a police guard post at the main entrance of the well-fortified U.S. Consulate in Istanbul that officials labeled a "terrorist" act. Turkish police launched a large scale investigation on the incident.(UPDATED)
The attack was "an obvious act of terrorism" aimed at the United States, the country's ambassador to Turkey said.
"It is enough to say they are terrorists who carried out a dastardly and cowardly attack against the U.S. diplomatic mission and Turkish police. Our two countries stand together in the fight against international terrorism," Ross Wilson told reporters in Ankara.
The three assailants jumped from a car and opened fire at the police checkpoint around 11:00a.m. (0800 GMT), officials told reporters, adding that they also fired shots at the building. The security forces returned fire, killing all three gunmen.
Wilson said security measures were beefed up at the consulate as well as at the U.S. embassy in Ankara and the consulate in the southern city of Adana, near which a major Turkish air base is often used by U.S. aircraft.
Both White House or the U.S. Secretary of State did not explicitly mention that the attack targeted at the U.S.
Condoleezza Rice voiced "deep regret" on Wednesday following the attack. "I know that some policemen were among those who died and we very much appreciate what was really a very rapid and proper response from the government to try to deal with the security situation in front of our consulate," she told reporters aboard her plane as she flew from Sofia to Tbilisi.
Asked if she had any information on whether the U.S. consulate was the target of the attack, she said: "We don't know." She added that she had not yet been able to discuss the situation with Wilson.
Earlier in Washington, the White House condemned the attack, but would not comment on whether the consulate was the target.
POLICE WAS TARGETED
The assailants "directly" targeted the police post outside the high-walled U.S. consulate in the upscale district of Istinye, Istanbul province Governor Muammer Guler said.
"There is no doubt that this is a terrorist attack," Istanbul Gov. Muammer Guler said.
Police identified the perpetrators of the armed attack, Guler told reporters after visiting wounded police officers at a local hospital, adding all current evidence indicates that three of the assailants who were killed during the attack were of Turkish origin.
Guler said the attack was captured by the police surveillance system (MOBESE) and added police were in pursuit of the fourth assailant who fled the scene.
Guler said the wounded police officer and the civilian driver of the police tow truck were not in life threatening condition.
Turkish Interior Minister Besir Atalay said that no one has claimed responsibility for the attack outside the consulate.
"We have learned that a car was used in the attack and have determined the registration plate number. Witnesses said that three assailants got out of the vehicle, while another remained inside. He could be injured as well," Atalay added.
Istanbul's chief prosecutor Aykut Cengiz Engin said the attackers were armed with pistols and shotguns. Forensic teams were seen examining a shotgun on the ground.
The attack occurred right outside the high-walled consulate compound in Istinye district. Guns and rifles were seized at the scene after the shootout, which lasted about ten minutes.
Engin also said this is "a terrorist attack". "The 20-25 year old attackers used pomp action shotguns and handguns in the attack. The attack was carried out by four people. One of the attackers fled the scene in the vehicle used in the attack," he told reporters.
Yavuz Erkut Yuksel, a bystander, told CNN-Turk television the attackers emerged from a white vehicle and surprised the guard.
"One of them approached a policeman while hiding his gun and shot him in the head," Yuksel said.
Guler said two of the attackers were Turkish nationals. Police were pursuing a fourth attacker who reportedly escaped in a car.
The car, described either as white or grey, was driven by a fourth accomplice who drove off after the attack.
The security forces launched a major hunt for the vehicle and a police helicopter was over flying the area.
A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said there were no reports of casualties among American consulate employees, but could not confirm Turkish media reports of injuries and deaths.
"At about 11 a.m., at least one assailant opened fire on the Turkish police guard post area near the main entrance to the consulate," the U.S. embassy spokeswoman said. "We're cooperating with the police and taking the appropriate measures."
The secure U.S. consulate building was built after Islamic militants linked to al-Qaeda carried out suicide bombings in 2003 that targeted two synagogues, the British Consulate and a British bank in Istanbul. Those attacks killed 58 people.
The consulate occupies an imposing structure on a hill in Istinye, a densely residential neighborhood along the Bosporus Strait on the European side of Istanbul.