A Syrian suicide bomber on Tuesday struck the heart of Istanbul’s busiest tourist district, killing 10 people, most of them Germans, in the latest deadly attack blamed on Islamic State (IS) terrorists.
Images from the scene showed several mutilated corpses lying on the ground close to the iconic Ottoman-era Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet, a district home to Istanbul’s biggest concentration of historic monuments.
Turkey has been hit by a string of deadly attacks this year, but Tuesday’s bombing was the first time in recent memory tourists had been targeted in the heart of the city. The attack on the city of 14 million was sharply condemned by UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who denounced it as ‘despicable’.
Germany said at least eight of its nationals had been killed in the blast, while a Turkish official put the total number of Germans killed at nine. “At least eight Germans” are among the dead, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin, saying it was not clear if that would be the final figure.
“The terrorists are the enemies of all free people, they are enemies of humanity, be it in Syria, Turkey or France or Germany,” she said, stressing that Berlin would fight such terror ‘with determination’.
Peru also confirmed one of its nationals had died in the attack, the foreign ministry in Lima said. Turkish media reports said German and Peruvian tourists were also among the wounded.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the attack was carried out “by a suicide bomber of Syrian origin,” while Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the man belonged to the IS extremist group, also known by its Arabic acronym, Da’ish.
Officials said the bomber was a Syrian born in 1988 who had crossed the border into Turkey. Turkey has been on high alert after a series of attacks blamed on the IS including a double suicide bombing in October in Ankara that killed 103 people.
The explosion occurred at around 0820 GMT by the Obelisk of Theodosius, a monument from ancient Egypt which was re-erected by the Roman Emperor Theodosius and stands just outside the Blue Mosque.
Police threw up a tight security cordon around the area as helicopters hovered overhead, and crowds of worried locals and tourists clamoured to find out what had happened, an AFP correspondent said. The explosion was powerful enough to be heard in adjacent neighbourhoods, witnesses told AFP.
The authorities imposed a broadcast ban on reporting of the attack, prompting television channels to halt live coverage from the scene although factual commentaries continued.
Following the attack, Turkish security forces rounded up 16 suspected IS members in Ankara and 21 in the southern city of Sanliurfa, reports said although it was not clear if they were directly linked to the Istanbul attack.
Previous attacks in 2015, including October’s deadly suicide bombings in Ankara, had all targeted pro-Kurdish groups who are staunchly opposed to the IS. But it was the first time any recent attacks specifically targeted tourists in Turkey, whose tourism industry is a key component of the economy.
So far there has been no claim of responsibility for Tuesday’s attack. But IS’s involvement would raise new fears that the almost five year conflict in Syria is spilling over Turkey’s borders.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2016.