‘Scent of terror’: Istanbul blast kills and injures dozens on busy tourist street

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the explosion as a likely terrorist attack

Borzou Daragahi
in Istanbul
,Zoe Tidman
Sunday 13 November 2022 18:28 GMT
Pedestrians run away after deadly explosion rocks street in Istanbul

An explosion ripped through the centre of Turkey’s largest city on Sunday, killing at least six people and injuring dozens in a possible bomb attack on one of Istanbul’s most high-profile tourist attractions.

Witnesses described a powerful blast followed by panic on Istanbul’s pedestrian-only Istiklal Street, a mile-long stretch of shops, cultural attractions and diplomatic outposts, including the consulates of France and Russia.

“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 45-year-old Mehmet Akus, who works in a restaurant on Istiklal. “My relatives called me. They know I work on Istiklal.”

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking to reporters in Ankara before boarding the plane to head to Indonesia for the G20 summit, described the explosion as a likely terrorist attack.

“It might be wrong to say for sure that this is terrorism, but there is the scent of terror here,” he said. “The relevant units of our state continue their efforts to uncover the perpetrators of this heinous attack and those who orchestrated it.”

Panic erupted as the explosion sent fire and debris flying. “At first we thought a building had collapsed,” said a resident who lives 200 yards from the blast site. “Then we saw the people running down our street.”

Many feared a secondary attack, and reports swirled about gunfire. Panic erupted in another neighbourhood, Nisantasi, amid unfounded claims of another bomb blast. Helicopters whirred above as a succession of emergency vehicles screeched through the city.

Security camera footage showed dozens of people walking by a planter along the street on what had been a sunny Sunday afternoon just before the explosion, which the video suggests could have come from a bag placed on a wooden bench. Grisly video and photos of the aftermath showed bloodied men and women and the body parts of victims scattered across the street.

“We wish God’s mercy on those who lost their lives and a speedy recovery to the injured,” Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu said in a post on Twitter.

Emergency personnel investigate the scene after an explosion on Istiklal Street
Emergency personnel investigate the scene after an explosion on Istiklal Street (Getty Images)

Mr Erdogan said initial investigations suggested a woman had a role in the blast. “Efforts to suffocate Turkey and the Turkish nation with terrorism have not reached results in the past and will not in the future,” he said.

Turkey’s broadcast media watchdog issued a ban on sharing footage of the explosion. Officials cautioned journalists and citizens not to share unverified information about the blast.

A 2016 suicide bombing near the same location along Istiklal killed five people and was claimed by Isis. Isis has recently stepped up some activities, claiming a 26 October gun attack on a religious site in neighbouring Iran that killed 16 people.

Turkey’s armed forces have also increased pressure on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an outlawed group that has a presence in the country’s southeast, as well as northeast Syria and northern Iraq. Turkish armed forces regularly launch airstrikes against alleged PKK strongholds in northern Iraq.

Ankara has been pressuring Russia and Iran to allow it to attack positions of a PKK affiliate in northeast Syria. Kurdish activists in Europe have accused Turkey of using chemical weapons against the PKK in the southeast, a charge rejected by Ankara.

While it remains unclear who or what was behind Sunday’s blast, it will probably bring the issue of security and who can best handle it back to the top of Turkey’s political agenda ahead of June 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections. Mr Erdogan has been polling poorly.

The explosion will also further strain Turkey’s already struggling economy. It probably puts an end to an unprecedented surge of tourism, which had replenished the coffers of Istanbul’s vital hotel, restaurant and retail sectors after the doldrums of the Covid pandemic.

In the aftermath of the bombing, tourists could be seen quickly dragging their bags toward taxi stands.

“I am leaving because I am scared,” said one Moroccan visitor, who said he was heading to the airport.

“It’s really bad timing. It has been a very good time for tourism,” said Sami Yalcin, manager at Nevi Hotel and Suites, which lies 50 yards from the blast site. “That won’t last. It’s really terrible. People will be scared. Think about it. Can you come here again? Nobody will come. Maybe after one or two years. But for now, it’s finished.”

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