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Nine charged over Turkey blasts

Two suspects are escorted to questioning.
Two suspects are escorted to questioning.

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Istanbul (Turkey)

ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) -- A Turkish court has charged nine suspected accomplices in last week's suicide bombings against British targets in Istanbul.

The suspects were charged on Tuesday with aiding or being members of an illegal organization after hours of police questioning.

No trial date has been set, and the charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison if the defendants are found guilty. Seven other detainees were released.

The charges come less than a week after last Thursday's twin suicide bombings at the UK consulate and the British-based HSBC bank, which killed 31 people.

Most of the victims were Turks. Three Britons died, including the British Consul-General Roger Short, as well as an Australian, and two Armenians.

Investigations into the blasts are continuing with authorities pointing the finger at Muslim extremist Turks, some with links to Islamic radicals in Afghanistan and Chechnya, Turkish media reported.

The suspects included relatives of the bombers, all of whom came from Bingol, a center of Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey's impoverished and mainly Kurdish southeast near the Iran border, Reuters news agency reported.

Some of the bombers were identified by DNA taken from the scenes.

On Monday, Istanbul Governor Muammer Guler said progress was being made in the probe.

Though Guler did not name any suspects, Turkish media said that both of the bombers in Thursday's attacks were militants previously reported to be accomplices in similar suicide blast attacks on two Istanbul synagogues on November 16 in which 25 people were killed.

Security stepped up

Turkey, which began on Tuesday to celebrate the annual Bayram holiday which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, has stepped up security at key sites in the wake of the recent blasts.

Jewish and Christian sites in Istanbul have been given additional security, as have other high profile U.S. and British sites.

The British government warned Tuesday that further terrorist attacks may be imminent in Istanbul and Ankara.

In a televised national address, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appealed to Turks to resist terrorism.

"This is a war between justice and cruelty, good and bad, and true and false. It is our right to expect every sensible person to stand by justice, good, and truth in this war," he said.

Instructions have been sent to religious institutions for sermons on tolerance to be delivered Tuesday.

On Sunday, Erdogan talked of the country's shame that four of the bombers were Turks, probably aided by international organizations.

He said it was too early to confirm the involvement of the al Qaeda in the blast despite the claims of responsibility from groups linked to the terror network.

Turkish and international officials say the attacks bore the hallmarks of Osama bin Laden's terror organization.

Israeli security sources, in an assessment of the synagogue bombings, said it is clear Turkey is a target because of its secular government and its ties to Europe, which terrorists are likely to target in the future.

Britain, the United States and Australia -- allies in the Iraq war -- have warned their citizens against non-essential visits to Turkey amid concerns of further attacks. (Warnings)

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