Terrorists targeted Turkey’s largest city again today, with an apparent suicide bombing that left at least five dead, a week after a bombing in the capital of Ankara killed 37. The previous bombing in Istanbul targeted a plaza near the Haga Sophia and the Blue Mosque and killed a number of German tourists. This time, the bomber targeted another popular tourist destination, the high-fashion shopping district of Istiklal, which also houses foreign consulates. Sky News got one of the first reports out this morning:
AFP had more raw video of the scene on Istiklal:
CBS News followed up a little later with an updated casualty count:
A suicide attacker detonated a bomb on Istanbul’s main pedestrian shopping street on Saturday, killing five people, the city’s governor said. Turkey’s health minister said 36 people were wounded in the attack including 12 foreign nationals.
Governor Vasip Sahin said the explosion occurred outside a local government office on Istiklal Street, which is also home to cafes, restaurants and foreign consulate buildings. Sahin said one of wounded victims died in hospital and that the attacker was among the dead.
Turkey’s health minister, Mehmet Muezzinoglu, did not provide information on the nationalities of the injured foreigners. But the private Dogan news agency said at least three of the injured are Israeli nationals and that the wounded included two children. And private NTV said at least one Iranian was among the injured.
The Washington Post reports that suspicion for the attack has fallen on Kurdish separatists, although ISIS remains a possibility too:
There were no immediate claims of responsibility, but suspicion has undoubtedly fallen on Kurdish separatists who are waging a war in Turkey’s southeast.
Saturday’s attack further suggests that this conflict is spilling over into urban areas, with bombings targeting both Turkish soldiers and civilians in recent weeks.
Kurdish militants claimed responsibility for a car bomb last week that struck a square of shops and restaurants in the capital, Ankara, killing at least 37 people. The Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, asserted responsibility for an attack Feb. 17 in Ankara that killed 28 Turkish soldiers.
In its report, CBS noted that the holiday of Newroz is Monday, a day in which Kurdish separatists often demonstrate for independence. However, ISIS has targeted both Istanbul and Ankara in the past, and both have hit economic targets, especially tourism. Istiklal is both heavily trafficked and difficult to defend against a suicide bomber. Having walked it once myself (in 2013), it struck me at the time as more vulnerable than the Grand Bazaar or the spice market, as those have specific points of entry and egress to watch.
The Turkish security presence there even then was noticeable, however, and might have saved lives today, according to Reuters:
One of the official said the bomber had planned to hit a more crowded spot.
“The attacker detonated the bomb before reaching the targeted point because they were scared of the police,” the official said, declining to be named because the investigation is ongoing.
So what was the targeted point? Was it a foreign consulate, or was it just as many civilians as the bomber could kill at once? We may not know for a while, unless one group or another takes responsibility for this act of terrorism. It’s that plethora of potential suspects and the cluster of attacks in recent weeks that demonstrates the precarious position in which Turkey finds itself — and in large part because of its own short-sighted efforts to leverage Islamist radicals to unseat Bashar al-Assad.