February 3, 2023

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Six dead in explosion in Istanbul, Erdogan says it smells like terrorism

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©Reuters. Ambulances and security guards are seen after an explosion at the busy Istiklal pedestrian street in Istanbul, Turkey, November 13, 2022. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan 2/3

By David Gauthier-Villars, Azra Ceylan and Ece Toksabay

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Six people were killed and 81 others injured on Sunday when an explosion rocked a busy pedestrian street in central Istanbul in what Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called a bomb attack that “smacks of terrorism”.

Hundreds of people fled historic Istiklal Avenue after the blast as ambulances and police rushed in. The area in the Beyoglu district of Turkey’s largest city was crowded with shoppers, tourists and families as usual over the weekend.

Video footage obtained by Reuters showed the moment the blast took place at 4:13 p.m. (1313 GMT), throwing debris into the air and leaving several people on the ground while others stumbled away.

Hours after the blast, Vice President Fuat Oktay visited the site to give the latest death and casualty figures and pledged to resolve the matter “very soon”.

Authorities later said a government ministry official and his daughter were among the dead. Five people were hospitalized in intensive care, two of them in critical condition.

Nobody took responsibility for the explosion.

Istanbul and other Turkish cities have been attacked by Kurdish separatists, Islamist militants and other groups in the past, including in a series of attacks in 2015 and 2016.

“Efforts to defeat Turkey and the Turkish people through terrorism will fail today as they did yesterday and tomorrow,” Erdogan said at a news conference before flying to Indonesia for a summit of the Group of 20 leading economies.

“Our people can rest assured that the guilty … will be punished as they deserve,” he said, adding that initial information indicated “a woman played a part”.

“It would be wrong to say that this is undoubtedly a terrorist attack, but initial developments and initial information from my governor say it smacks of terrorism,” he added.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag was quoted by state-run Anadolu as saying a woman sat on a bench for more than 40 minutes before leaving minutes before the blast, suggesting a bomb detonated in time or detonated remotely.

“PEOPLE FREEZE”

Reuters footage showed people tending to victims after the blast and later investigators in white outfits collecting footage from the scene, where parts of a concrete planter were scattered on the avenue lined with shops and restaurants.

“When I heard the explosion I was petrified, people froze and looked at each other. Then people started running away.

“My relatives called me, they know that I work at Istiklal. I calmed her down,” he told Reuters.

A helicopter flew over the crime scene and several ambulances parked in nearby Taksim Square. The Turkish Red Crescent said blood had been transferred to nearby hospitals.

If confirmed, it would be the first major bomb blast in Istanbul in several years.

Two bomb blasts outside an Istanbul football stadium in December 2016 killed 38 and wounded 155 in an attack claimed by an offshoot of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), classified as a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and the United States becomes.

Condemnations of the attack and condolences for the victims poured in from several countries, including Greece, Egypt, Ukraine, Britain, Azerbaijan, Italy and Pakistan.

On Twitter, EU Council President Charles Michel expressed his condolences to the victims after the “terrible news”.

(Writing and additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Gareth Jones and Jane Merriman)