Central Istanbul Street Explosion Kills Six, Injures 81 – Erdoğan

  • Describes ‘treacherous attack’ on İstiklal Avenue as act of terrorism
  • Promises punishment for perpetrators

An explosion on Istanbul’s popular pedestrian thoroughfare İstiklal Avenue has left at least six people have been killed and 81 injured in an attack that Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan described as an act of terrorism.

Speaking shortly before departing for Tuesday’s G20 summit in Bali, Erdoğan spoke of a “treacherous attack”, saying; “Those responsible will be punished”.

Erdoğan said investigations were continuing but initial reports suggested an act of terrorism. “The first information provided to us by the [Istanbul] governor suggests this was an act of terrorism”, he said.

His vice-president, Fuat Oktay, said a female attacker had detonated a bomb on the busy shopping street. “Whoever is behind these events, they will be found, even if they go to the other end of the world”, he added.

The explosion occurred at about 4.20 pm local time (1320 GMT) on Sunday, the Istanbul Governor, Ali Yerlikaya, tweeted.

While central Istanbul has been targeted by Kurdish separatists and militant Islamists in the recent past, the attack has so far not been claimed. This is as the state-run Anadolu news agency said five prosecutors have been assigned to investigate the explosion.

The explosion shook buildings around the busy tourist area, rattling windows and sending flocks of pigeons into the air. One video posted online showed a ball of fire rising in the street among crowds of shoppers, who turned and ran in the other direction.

Videos posted online from the moment of the attack showed terrified people running and trying to seek cover in nearby shops as a fireball billowed overhead in the distance from the middle of the street. Shoppers who had previously been strolling in the afternoon sun clutched each other in fear before turning to run away.

“When I heard the explosion, I was petrified, people froze, looking at each other. Then people started running away. What else can you do?” said Mehmet Akus, 45. Akus, who works in a restaurant on the avenue, told Reuters; “My relatives called me, they know I work on İstiklal. I reassured them”.

CCTV footage from the time of the attack distributed by Reuters shows tens of pedestrians at a crowded point in the busy thoroughfare, moving between concrete benches and the surrounding shops when the explosion struck.

As the smoke clears, at least four motionless bodies can be seen on the ground while people who were knocked down attempt to get up and run away.

Other footage showed a few people scattered around the site of the explosion, in front of a large Mango store, with some people rushing to help. Ambulances, fire engines, and police were seen at the scene.

An hour after the explosion, parts of the avenue remained open to pedestrians, while shops shuttered and police helicopters roared overhead.

At a police cordon to block off the area immediately around the explosion, fearful families and tourists tried to hurry away as security services locked down access to the section of the street leading to the city’s central Taksim Square.

The Turkish media regulator, RTUK, imposed a ban on sharing footage of the explosion or its immediate aftermath, with the exception of government statements. Some Turkish users said they were unable to access Twitter without a VPN.

İstiklal Avenue is a crowded street popular with tourists and locals, lined by shops and restaurants.

Turkey was hit by a string of deadly bombings between 2015 and 2017 by the Islamic State group and outlawed Kurdish groups. They included a suicide bomber attack on the same street on 19 March 2016, which killed five people and injured 36. Turkish police later said that the bomber had links to the Islamic State group.

In January of that year, a suicide bomber in the busy Sultanahmet district killed 13. In June, attackers armed with automatic weapons and explosives belts attacked the entrance of Istanbul’s Atatürk airport, killing 45 people other than the attackers and injuring more than 230. – With The Guardian reports

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