6 dead as blast rocks busy Istanbul street

At least six people died while 53 others were wounded on Sunday when an explosion rocked a busy pedestrian street in central Istanbul in what Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called a “vile” bomb attack that “smells like terrorism”.

The explosion occurred shortly after 4pm in the famous Istiklal shopping street which is popular with locals and tourists. According to images posted on social media at the time of the explosion, it was accompanied by flames and immediately triggered panic, with people running in all directions.

A large black crater was also visible in those images, as well as several bodies lying on the ground nearby. According to an AFP video journalist on the scene, police established a large security cordon to prevent access to the damaged area for fear of a second explosion.

The area, in the Beyoglu district of Turkey’s largest city, had been crowded as usual at the weekend with shoppers, tourists and families. Reuters footage showed people attending to victims after the blast, and later investigators in white outfits collecting material from the scene.

A massive deployment of security forces equally barred all entrances, while a heavy deployment of rescue workers and police were visible. A helicopter flew above the scene and a number of ambulances were parked in nearby Taksim Square.

“I was 50-55 metres (yards) away, suddenly there was the noise of an explosion. I saw three or four people on the ground,” witness Cemal Denizci, 57, told AFP. “People were running in panic. The noise was huge. There was black smoke,” he said.

Erdogan told a press conference that initial information suggested “a woman played a part” in the bombing. "It might be wrong if we say for sure that this is terror but according to first signs… there is a smell of terror there," he added.

“Our people can rest assured that the culprits behind the attack will be punished as they deserve,” he said. “Efforts to defeat Turkey and the Turkish people through terrorism will fail today just as they did yesterday and as they will again tomorrow.”

Authorities offered few details and no groups immediately claimed the blast, but Turkish cities in the past have been struck by militant and Kurdish groups. Istiklal Avenue had already been hit in the past during a campaign of attacks in 2015 and 2016 that targeted Istanbul and other cities, including the capital Ankara.

Condemnations of the attack and condolences for the victims rolled in from several countries, including Pakistan, Greece, Egypt, Ukraine and Azerbaijan. President Dr Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed their condolences to Turkiye over loss of precious lives in Istanbul blast.

“I have learnt with deep anguish about the explosion at popular Istiklal avenue in the heart of Istanbul. Govt & people of Pakistan express deepest condolences to the brotherly people of Turkiye at the loss of precious lives & send prayers for the speedy recovery of the injured,” Shehbaz posted a tweet.

President Alvi strongly condemned the explosion and expressed solidarity with the government and people of Turkiye over the incident. He said that they shared grief with the people of Turkiye. He added that terrorism was a collective issue of the world.

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said he was deeply saddened at loss of precious life. “We stand in complete solidarity with our Turkish brethren in this hour of grief and offer our sincerest condolences to the bereaved families & brotherly people of Turkiye,” he said.

Greece "unequivocally" condemned the blast and expressed condolences to the government and people of Turkey. European Council President Charles Michel said on Twitter he had sent condolences to victims after the “horrific news”.

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