Suicide blast in Istanbul's major shopping area kills 5, injures 36

Police forensic experts inspecting the scene of the bomb blast yesterday. The intended target was a nearby local authority building.
Police forensic experts inspecting the scene of the bomb blast yesterday. The intended target was a nearby local authority building.PHOTO: REUTERS

ISTANBUL • At least five people were killed and 36 wounded in a suicide bombing on a major shopping and tourist district in central Istanbul, the fourth suicide bombing to hit Turkey this year.

The explosion yesterday hit Istiklal Street, a wide boulevard closed to traffic that is lined with international stores and shopping centres, just a few hundred metres from an area where police buses are usually parked, a witness said.

The device exploded near a mall 500m from Taksim Square, a popular meeting point.

Armed police sealed off the main shopping street, where ambulances had gathered. Police helicopters buzzed overhead and panicked shoppers fled the area, ducking down narrow side streets.

"My local shopkeeper told me someone had blown himself up and I walked towards the end of the street," one neighbourhood resident said. "I saw a body on the street. No one was treating him but then I saw someone who appeared to be a regular citizen trying to do something to the body. That was enough for me and I turned and went back."

The street, usually thronged with shoppers on weekends, was quieter than normal before the blast as more people are staying home after previous deadly blasts.

"We heard a strong explosion. We rushed to the window and saw body parts stuck to the window pane," said a resident named Ahmet, who lives in a building across the street from the scene of the attack and who was later evacuated.

Of the 36 wounded, seven of them are in a serious condition, the country's Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu said, adding 12 of the injured were foreigners.

"We as a nation are unfortunately now face to face with a situation of unlimited, immeasurable acts that are inhumane, defy human values and are treacherous," he said.

Turkish officials said evidence indicates that the bomber may have come from either the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group or the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The attacker was deterred from an initial target by the police and detonated the bomb "out of fear", a Turkish official added.

Local governor Vasip Sahin, in remarks made to reporters yesterday, quashed rumours of attacks elsewhere in Istanbul and said the Turkish authorities are continuing to investigate the latest bombing.

He confirmed, though, that the attacker was among the dead, and the intended target was a nearby local authority building.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, at a news conference in Istanbul after the attack, said that the nation's fight against terrorism would continue with full force.

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who is on a visit to Turkey, condemned the bombing, which he said "displays the ugly face of terrorism".

In a statement yesterday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault condemned the "despicable and cowardly act that has caused the death of several people", adding Paris stood in solidarity with Turkey.

Singapore's Foreign Ministry also condemned the attack in a statement late last night, adding that there were no reports so far of Singaporeans being involved in the incident.

Just hours before the attack, a Turkish court detained five people overnight on suspicion of links to a bombing in Ankara last Sunday that killed 35, the Anatolia news agency reported yesterday.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, a radical Kurdish group with ties to the PKK, claimed responsibility for the March 13 blast.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 20, 2016, with the headline 'Suicide blast in Istanbul's major shopping area kills 5, injures 36'. Print Edition | Subscribe