10 dead, 15 injured in Istanbul tourist district explosion

Reuters, AFP-JIJI, AP

An explosion in the heart of Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet tourist district killed at least 10 people and wounded 15 on Tuesday, with a Turkish government official saying the blast was likely a terrorist attack.

“Terrorist links are suspected,” the official said, asking not to be named, after the explosion.

Local media reports also said a suicide bomber may have been responsible.

Several bodies lay on the ground in the Sultanahmet square, close to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, a major tourist area of Turkey’s most populous city. A police officer and witness at the scene reported also seeing several bodies and body parts.

The Istanbul governor’s office said the authorities were investigating the type of explosive used and who might have been responsible for the attack. It said ten people were killed and 15 wounded but gave no further details.

“The explosion was very loud. We shook a lot. We ran out and saw body parts,” one woman who works at a nearby antiques store said, declining to give her name.

Turkey’s AHaber television said the blast may have been caused by a suicide bomber but this was not independently confirmed.

Omer Celik, the spokesman for Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s ruling party, issued a statement condemning what he called “a heinous attack.”

The explosion, which could be heard from several neighborhoods, was at a park that is home to a landmark obelisk, some 25 meters from the historic Blue Mosque.

Ambulances rushed to the scene, ferrying away the wounded as police cordoned off streets.

“We’re taking precautions against a second explosion,” the police officer said, ushering people out of the square.

Turkey’s Dogan news agency reported that at least six Germans, one Norwegian and one Peruvian were among the wounded, and Seoul’s Foreign Ministry told reporters via text message that one South Korean had a finger injury. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry told Norway’s news agency NTB that the Norwegian tourist was slightly injured and was being treated in a local hospital.

It was not immediately known if any foreigners were among the dead.

Germany warned its citizens to avoid crowds outside tourist attractions in Istanbul, saying on a government website that further violent clashes and “terrorist attacks” are expected across Turkey. It also urged travelers to stay away from demonstrations and gatherings, particularly in large cities.

Police sealed the area, barring people from approaching in case of a second explosion, and a police helicopter hovered overhead.

The Sultanahmet neighborhood is Istanbul’s main sightseeing area and includes the Topkapi Palace and the Haghia Sophia museum.

Erdem Koroglu, who was working at a nearby office, told NTV television he saw several people on the ground following the blast.

“It was difficult to say who was alive or dead,” Koroglu said. “Buildings rattled from the force of the explosion.”

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu immediately convened a security meeting with the country’s interior minister and other officials.

As with previous attacks, authorities imposed a news blackout, barring media from showing images of the dead or injured or reporting any details of the investigation.

The blast comes just over a year after a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a police station for tourists off the same square, killing one officer and wounding another. That attack was initially claimed by a far-left group, but later turned out to have been perpetrated by a woman with suspected Islamist militant links, officials said.

Turkey is on alert after 103 people were killed on Oct. 10 when two suicide bombers attacked a crowd of peace activists in the capital, Ankara, the bloodiest strike in the country’s modern history.

That operation was blamed on Islamic State jihadis, as were two other bloody assaults in the country’s Kurdish-dominated southeast earlier in the year.

Turkish authorities have in recent weeks detained several suspected Islamic State members with officials saying they were planning attacks in Istanbul.

But Turkey is also waging an all-out assault on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has staged dozens of deadly attacks against members of the security forces in the southeast of the country.