London (CNSNews.com) - Britain's Foreign Office warned that terrorists could strike again at locations in Turkey and advised against travel to the country in the wake of bomb blasts against a bank headquarters and the U.K. consulate in Istanbul that killed at least 27 people and injured more than 400.
"We have information to suggest that further attacks may be attempted," according to new travel advice put out by British officials. The United States and Australia also issued travel warnings.
The attacks followed suicide synagogue bombings that killed 23 in Istanbul on Saturday and coincided with President Bush's state visit to Great Britain.
U.K. authorities believe Thursday's targets, the consulate building and the headquarters of the London-based HSBC bank, were "clearly selected because of their connection to Britain," the Foreign Office said.
As messages of sympathy for the victims and condemnation for the bombers rolled in from around the world, police warned that Britain itself could also be a target for Islamic extremists.
"We are at the highest level of alert in the country and we can go no further," said Sir John Stevens, commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police Department. "Do not be alarmed, be alert, if there is anything suspicious get in contact with police."
"We are making sure that security is maintained at its highest," Stevens said. "We increased security three or four days ago after receiving reports saying we needed to do that."
The Metropolitan Police have sent 16 officers from a special anti-terror branch to aid the investigation in Istanbul.
Security fears had already been heightened as a result of the president's visit. On Friday, Bush traveled to Prime Minister Tony Blair's home district of Sedgefield in County Durham, northern England.
A massive security operation was underway in the village, where the two leaders were scheduled to have lunch at a local pub before Bush's return to Washington.
Al Qaeda involvement
Government officials and terror experts say the Istanbul blasts were plotted by al Qaeda, a theory bolstered by a claim of responsibility phoned into Turkey's semi-official news agency on Thursday.
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said an unspecified number of suspects have been arrested in connection with the bombings.
"Some people have been arrested, but its too early to give information about them. The investigation is going on," he told reporters.
Britain was at the top of a list of U.S. allies mentioned in a taped message purportedly from Osama bin Laden and broadcast on al-Jazeera television last month.
"We reserve the right to respond at the appropriate time and place against all the countries participating in this unjust war, particularly Britain, Spain, Australia, Holland, Japan and Italy," the speaker said.
But speculation continued Thursday as to why British interests in Turkey were attacked.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw flew to Istanbul following the attacks, and said that the country may have been targeted because it is "a successful democracy, it is overwhelming Islamic, and in democracy and freedom recently elected an Islamic party ... that is also democratic and forward looking."
Maha Azzam, a writer and analyst on political Islam and an associate fellow at the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, said Turkey was a "soft target" for extremists.
Azzam told CNSNews that despite increased security levels, the country's porous borders and uncertain internal security situation created an opening for terrorists.
"Targets were expected to be hit on mainland Britain and of course this didn't happen," she said.
Independent terror groups
Although Turkey has not previously been identified as a key country for al Qaeda, Azzam said that close ties to the U.S. and Europe might have inflamed extremist opinion.
"I don't think al Qaeda has chosen Turkey in the same way it has chose Saudi Arabia as a target," she said, adding that the country's diplomatic friendliness towards the West "potentially puts Turkey in the company of those countries that have seemed to acquiesce to U.S. interests."
Within the country there are extremist Islamic groups eager to strike at Western interests, and Azzam said she suspected that the recent attacks indicate that local groups loosely tied to al Qaeda may begin to plot attacks independently of Osama bin Laden's main organization.
"These groups have mushroomed and we've heard about many that have not been previously known," she said. "It appears that these groups will soon be able to carry out operations with very limited involvement from the center."
In other words, she said, al Qaeda could become a rallying cry rather than a major financial or logistical contributor to local terror groups. In addition to al Qaeda, Thursday's claim of responsibility mentioned a small Turkish militant group, the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders Front.
Britain and Turkey issued a joint pledge to track down the terrorists responsible, and Straw, the foreign secretary, said the bombings would strengthen Turkey's ties to Europe.
"Far from this hurting Turkey's application to join the European Union, it will increase the determination of all of us to see Turkey a full member of the European Union," he said.
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