An explosion in the center of Istanbul’s busiest shopping area killed at least five people on Saturday, emptying the streets of Turkey’s largest city. Tom Stevenson reports from Istanbul.
Police believe that Saturday’s attack on Istiklal Street, Istanbul’s main pedestrian shopping street, was a suicide bombing gone wrong. In addition to the five deaths, at least 36 people were injured – 12 of them foreign nationals, according to the Ministry of Health.
Helicopters circled overhead as police quickly cordoned off the main entrances and side exits of Istiklal Street, while the smell of the explosion hung in the air long after the attack.
According to officers at the scene, an unknown attacker detonated an explosive device on the corner of Istiklal and Balo sokak, a side street next to the office of the district governor.
“We heard the explosion and then the police came and closed the road – it was frightening of course,” said Jacob, the manager of a kebab restaurant on Istiklal Street, just down from the site of the attack. “Many thousands of people depend for their livelihoods on the commerce of this street.”
“These attacks just keep happening and we should not be surprised,” he told DW. “The army is fighting a war in the southeast of the country and it is obviously making a lot of people angry. They have to pull back and stop this: violence is just causing more violence.”
At present, no group has claimed responsibility for the explosion.
‘They want to scare Turkey’
The attack came just a week after Turkey’s capital, Ankara, was struck by large-scale attack that claimed 37 lives and was subsequently claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a radical militant group that split off from the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 2006.
The group claimed the Ankara attack was a response to the government’s military operations in the predominantly Kurdish southeast, and warned of future attacks.
“They want to scare Turkey with these attacks […] they can do whatever they want, but we will not get used to terror,” Numan Kurtulmus, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, said Saturday after the Istanbul attack.
In a secret document circulated to municipal workers in Istanbul, and seen by DW, the Istanbul Security Directorate warned of a high likelihood of attacks over the weekend and around the period of Newroz, the Kurdish spring festival which falls on March 21. Kurds in Turkey have traditionally used the day to assert national identity.
On March 17, the German embassy in Ankara and consulate in Istanbul, along with the German school in Istanbul, were temporarily closed after German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier announced that the government had received intelligence of a possible attack. The German school in Istanbul is located on a side road off Istiklal Street.