By ZEYNEP BILGINSOY
ISTANBUL (AP) — Shots were fired from a moving car at the U.S. Embassy in Turkey before dawn Monday, an attack that came during heightened tensions between the two NATO allies. Officials said two people with criminal records were detained. There were no casualties in the fleeting attack, in which three of the six bullets fired hit the embassy gate and a reinforced window in the building in Ankara. The Ankara governor’s office named the suspects as Ahmet Celikten, 39, and Osman Gundas, 38, saying they had confessed. Authorities seized a 9-millimeter gun and a vehicle with Ankara license plates.
Celikten had escaped prison and Gundas had several crimes under his belt, including car theft, drugs and threats, the governor’s office said. The U.S. Embassy thanked Turkish authorities, tweeting that it appreciated their “fast and professional action” in arresting the two suspects. Turkish officials are locked in a trade and diplomatic dispute with the United States but they fully condemned the shooting. Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tweeted that it was “an attempt to create chaos.” A top official in Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party said the attack was a “clear provocation” and that foreign diplomats are guests of the country.
“The utmost sensitivity will be shown to ensure their security,” said the party spokesman, Omer Celik. The governor’s office said authorities are investigating the suspects’ links. The U.S. Embassy was planning to close at midday Monday anyway until the end of the week for the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha. Tensions between the U.S. and Turkey are high, partly because of the case of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor who is being prosecuted in Turkey for alleged espionage and terrorism-related offenses. He denies any wrongdoing and U.S. President Donald Trump has called for his immediate release.
Turkey has long criticized the United States for not agreeing to hand over Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric accused by Turkish authorities of engineering an attempted coup in 2016. Gulen denies those allegations. Washington has told Turkey it must present convincing evidence for any extradition proceeding to go forward. The Turkish lira has lost 39 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar since the beginning of the year and was hurt further by recent U.S. tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum. Turkey’s economy is already vulnerable because of heavy foreign currency borrowing that fueled high growth for years.
Also Monday, Turkey filed a complaint about the U.S. tariffs at the World Trade Organization, the WTO said. The two sides can now try to resolve the dispute without litigation — if talks fail after 60 days, a WTO panel can be asked to judge the matter, it said. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government imposed its own tit-for-tat tariffs on some American goods, alluded to the dispute with the U.S. in a pre-recorded holiday message.
“There is no difference between the direct attacks on our call to prayer and our flag and the attack on our economy,” said Erdogan. “Those who think they can make Turkey give in with the foreign exchange rate will soon see they are wrong.”
U.S. diplomatic offices have been targeted in the past in Turkey. At least one suspect was wounded in a shooting outside the U.S. consulate in Istanbul in 2015. In 2013, a suicide bomber killed a Turkish guard and himself outside the embassy in Ankara. In 2008, three assailants and three Turkish police officers died in a shootout outside the Istanbul consulate.