AT LEAST ten people, at least nine of them German tourists, were killed yesterday in an explosion in a tourist area of Istanbul.
A suicide bomber with links to Syria carried out the attack in the Sultanahmet district close to the city’s Blue Mosque, according to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Some 15 people were also wounded, the Istanbul governor’s office said in a statement.
Condemning the attack, Mr Erdogan said Turkey was the “top target for all terrorist groups in the region” and his country was “fighting against all of them equally”.
Eyewitness Murat Manaz said: “It was a suicide bomb. I went there and saw it and came back to the hotel. There was chaos. Everybody was running somewhere.
“Policemen did not see this coming. They were distressed but at the same time they were trying to evacuate the area because they said there was a possibility that a second bomb could go off.”
Turkey’s deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmus said the bomber was a 28-year-old Syrian national.
He added that most of the people who died were foreigners. It was unclear last night whether the death toll included the alleged bomber.
Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu telephoned German chancellor Angela Merkel to offer his condolences, the Anadolu news agency quoted his office as saying.
Mr Davutoglu later vowed to find and punish those linked to the bomber and pledged to continue the fight against Islamic States militants.
Mrs Merkel said: “Today Istanbul was hit; Paris has been hit, Tunisia has been hit, Ankara has been hit before. International terrorism is once again showing its cruel and inhuman face.”
The explosion, which was heard across several neighbourhoods, was at a public park that is home to a landmark obelisk, about 25 metres from the Blue Mosque.
Turkey’s Dogan news agency reported that at least six Germans, one Norwegian and one Peruvian were among the wounded. Seoul’s foreign ministry said one South Korean had a minor injury.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, although Islamic State was suspected.
A German government website warned its citizens to avoid crowds outside tourist attractions in Istanbul, saying that further violent clashes and “terrorist attacks” are expected across Turkey. It urged travellers to stay away from demonstrations and gatherings, particularly in large cities.
The Sultanahmet neighbourhood is Istanbul’s main sightseeing area and also includes the Topkapi Palace and the Haghia Sophia museum. Several hotels popular with tourists are nearby.
Last year, Turkey agreed to take a more active role in the United States-led battle against IS. Turkey opened its bases to US aircraft to launch air raids on the extremist group in Syria and has carried out strikes itself.
It has also moved to tighten security along its 560-mile border with Syria in a bid to stem the flow of militants.
The attack comes as the country is dealing with more than two million Syrian refugees and a wave of migrants from Syria and other countries pouring across Turkey to get to western Europe.