Suspected Driver in Attack on U.S. Consulate Claims He was Unaware of Terror Plot

A man suspected of driving the getaway car in the U.S. consulate attack says he was simply hired as a driver and had no idea that his passengers planned a terrorist attack, a Turkish newspaper reported Friday.

Police detained the man late Thursday suspecting he was the fourth gunman involved in Wednesday's shootout outside the consulate in Istanbul, a surprise raid that left three policemen and three attackers dead.

President Bush called Turkey's president Friday to offer his condolences.

In all, police have detained 10 people for questioning, Istanbul Governor Muammer Guler said Friday. Four of them were picked up soon after the shootout, including one who reportedly had frequent telephone calls with the assailants, media reports said.

U.S. and Turkish officials have labeled the operation a terrorist attack and Turkey immediately increased security at all U.S. diplomatic missions. Police suspect the attackers had ties to Al Qaeda but say they have no actual proof of that link just yet.

The Milliyet newspaper reported that the alleged getaway driver told interrogators he drove the attackers to the consulate for a fee but had no knowledge of their plans.

Another Turkish paper, Hurriyet, reported that the man told anti-terrorism police he fled the scene because he was afraid for his life. After Turkey launched a massive manhunt to find him, family members persuaded him to give himself up, Milliyet reported.

Neither paper cited its sources but police in Turkey routinely leak information through the media.

Guler confirmed that the car's driver was in police custody and said more arrests could come following the man's questioning by police. He did not comment on the Milliyet report.

Bush called President Abdullah Gul to express his condolences over the policemen's deaths and to thank the Turkish security forces, according to Gul's office.

"(Gul) reiterated (Turkey's) determination to fight terrorism and underlined the importance of the continuing cooperation between Turkey and the United States," said the statement from Gul's office.

Investigators are also looking into one attacker's possible ties to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Erkan Kargin, one of the three attackers killed and the suspected gang leader, had previously traveled to Afghanistan, according to a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Dozens of Islamic militants from Turkey have had military training in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and some have fought and died in Al Qaeda ranks in Iraq, Turkish officials say.

Guler called the raid a "suicide attack" in apparent reference to the fact that three attackers were killed.

Media reports suggested the attack on the consulate could have been launched in revenge for the death of an Al Qaeda militant, Abdul Fettah, reportedly killed in Afghanistan by a U.S. bombing. Fettah and Kargin are from the same southeastern province.

NTV television also suggested the attack could have been in retaliation to police raids in January on a suspected Al Qaeda cell in the southeastern province of Gaziantep that killed five people. The United States has been cooperating with Turkey against the group.

Turkey has been vigilant against homegrown Islamic militants since Al Qaeda-linked suicide bombers killed 58 people in 2003. But Turkey's secular nature, its efforts to join the European Union, and its close ties to the West and Israel make it a prime target for radical Muslim groups.