WASHINGTON — The U.S. Embassy targeted Friday by a suicide bomber in the Turkish capital, Ankara, dates to the 1950s and was recommended for replacement, though it had undergone security upgrades that prevented mass casualties in the blast, the State Department said.
The embassy explosion, which killed one guard and wounded several other people, is renewing debate over diplomatic security, which came under scrutiny after the deadly Sept. 11 attacks against the U.S. Consulate and a nearby CIA annex in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Ankara is among the capitals due a new embassy compound, but stressed that budget constraints mean the government can schedule the rebuilding of only three embassies a year instead of the desired 10.
A partisan budget argument was central to the furor surrounding the Benghazi attacks, with Republicans lambasting the State Department for failing to boost security at U.S. posts in Libya and other high-risk sites, and Democrats responding that House Republicans had slashed the administration’s request for embassy security funds by $128 million in 2011 and more than $330 million last year. The funding goes not only for construction but also for guards and other diplomatic security measures.
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“If we are fully funded … that would allow us to put 10 a year on the rebuilding list, and Ankara would be one that would benefit quickly,” Nuland said at a news conference.
After the Benghazi attacks, which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, an independent review board found “grossly inadequate” security at the compound. The State Department then conducted a review of all 275 diplomatic posts around the world and created a senior position to supervise security conditions at posts in high-risk areas.
“Ankara is one of the posts that is due for a completely new embassy compound in the future, and it is one of the posts that will go on the list if the department gets the money that we’re looking for from the Congress for security,” Nuland said.
Nuland said the suicide bomber approached a back entrance of the embassy just after 1 p.m. local time and detonated his explosives at the first checkpoint, killing himself and the guard on his side of the barrier. Two other guards behind bulletproof glass were shaken, Nuland said, but unharmed. The bomber died on the scene. She said one Turkish visitor was wounded and was in serious condition, while several American and Turkish staff members were treated on site for wounds from shrapnel.
“This is one of the compounds where we have been making steady security upgrades over the last decade, and, in fact, the attack was at one of the exterior compound-access sites, so it was far from the main building,” Nuland said. “And it was a result of the way that it was hardened that we only lost the one local security guard.”
The federal government warned Americans to stay away from all U.S. diplomatic facilities in Turkey and to be wary in large crowds.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said police think the bomber was connected to a domestic leftist-militant group. White House spokesman Jay Carney, however, said the motive for the attack and who was behind it was not known.
The state-run Anadolu Agency identified the bomber as Ecevit Sanli, 40. It said the 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.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke by phone with the U.S. ambassador to Turkey and the Turkish foreign minister.
Incoming Secretary John Kerry also was briefed via his staff, Nuland said.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.