An explosion occurred on a busy pedestrian street in the heart of Istanbul on Sunday, killing at least eight people in what authorities described as a possible terrorist assault and shattering a feeling of calm as Turkey’s tourism sector attempts to recover from the epidemic.
The incident was the bloodiest in Turkey in more than five years, and officials provided little information in the hours that followed, stating only that they were examining the possibility that a woman detonated the device. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to punish anyone responsible for the explosion, but made no specific accusations.
Mr. Erdogan told reporters before to his flight to Indonesia for the Group of 20 summit, “Efforts to coerce Turkey and the Turkish people to capitulate via terror will not succeed today, as they have not in the past.”
According to the state-run news agency Anadolu, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said early Monday that the individual who planted the explosive at the scene has been caught. He did not name the individual, but suspected that Kurdish insurgents in northern Syria were responsible for the explosion.
A short distance from Taksim Square, the explosion jolted the heart of one of Istanbul’s most famous neighbourhoods, scattering bleeding pedestrians on the sidewalk and sending waves of tourists fleeing the area. Sunday evening, Turkish authorities estimated that 81 people had been injured, with two in severe condition.
The explosion happened in front of a clothes store on Istiklal Avenue, a huge pedestrian boulevard surrounded by ancient buildings, stores, and restaurants, and crossed by a red-and-white tram. The neighbourhood is filled with Turks and visitors from across the globe who wander, shop, see street performers, and purchase roasted chestnuts and Turkish ice cream day and night.
On Sunday, the Boulevard was much more busy than normal since one of Turkey’s major soccer clubs was due to play in the area that evening, attracting supporters to the area.
The area around Istiklal has suffered in recent years, as travel prohibitions and worries of coronavirus infection have kept many visitors away, as have many other regions of Turkey whose economies are dependent on tourism. As the epidemic subsided and the Turkish currency weakened, Turkey became an appealing tourism destination this summer.
Sunday around 4:20 p.m., a massive explosion rocked the roadway and an orange flame ascended into the sky, according to social media footage.
As security personnel roped off the explosion scene, siren-blaring ambulances raced to the area. A police aircraft flew in circles above.
“At first, I assumed it was a natural gas explosion,” said Serhat Sen, a 30-year-old real estate agent who was a little more than a half-mile away on his motorcycle.
“People were terrified, sobbing, and hurriedly fleeing,” Mr. Sen continued. “I began to tremble. I would have been there if I had been in a little more of a hurry.
Later, in a television appearance, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said that a bag burst near a seat after a lady sat there for more than 40 minutes. Either someone triggered the device after the lady departed, or it exploded on its own, he said. Mr. Bozdag said that it was thought that the bomb had nails to amplify the force of the explosion.
The blast ended a five-year period in which it looked that Turkey had moved beyond the terrible strikes that had devastated its cities in earlier years.
At least 39 people were murdered and scores more were injured when a gunman opened fire at a busy Istanbul nightclub early on January 1, 2017. A few weeks before, at least 38 people were killed and more than 100 were injured in two explosions, one of which occurred outside a soccer stadium.
The Turkish government has been at war with Kurdish insurgents located in the southeast of the nation for decades; they have conducted deadly assaults against civilians and security personnel. And terrorists who belonged to or were inspired by the Islamic State, which governed a so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq until early 2019, often assaulted and killed citizens in public spaces in Turkey.
In October 2015, two blasts shook the heart of Ankara, the Turkish capital, killing more than a hundred people who had gathered for a peace demonstration in what authorities described as the bloodiest terrorist act in Turkey’s modern history. The explosions happened near the major railway station in Ankara as Kurds and leftists prepared to protest the return of hostilities between the Turkish government and Kurdish rebels by marching.
Messages of condolence flowed in from Europe, the Middle East, and beyond, with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressing the alliance’s “solidarity” with Turkey. In addition, the Turkish Football Federation postponed the neighbouring soccer match that had been planned.