- Explosion in Istanbul tourist district
- At least ten killed, 15 injured
- Erdogan says Syrian suicide bomber suspected
- Turkish PM tells Merkel most victims were German
Erdogan: “Bomb blast was a suicide attack by a Syrian attacker
What has happened?
At least 10 people have been killed and 15 wounded in a blast in the centre of Turkey’s most populous city Istanbul, the authorities say.
The Turkish authorities say most of the dead were Germans; they believe the self-proclaimed Islamic State carried it out.
President Erdogan said a Syrian suicide bomber was probably responsible. The government has added that the perpetrator is thought to have recently crossed into Turkey from Syria.
The prime minister has said that the bomber was a jihadist from ISIL and that all those killed in the attack were foreign nationals.
According to sources in his office, Ahmet Davutoğlu told Germany’s Chancellor Merkel by phone that most of the 10 killed were German citizens.
Earlier, the German foreign ministry tweeted to advise travellers in Istanbul to avoid crowds provisionally.
The explosion happened shortly after 10 o’clock local time in Sultanahmet Square, the heart of the old town and a major tourist attraction.
Video footage shows bodies on the ground of the square, which is close to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
Witnesses reported hearing a loud blast and police and ambulances were quickly dispatched to the scene.
The area was sealed off, to prevent people from approaching in the event of a second explosion.
Turkish TV stations quickly reported casualties, saying there were a number of dead and injured.
Norway’s foreign ministry says one Norwegian man has been injured and its being treated in hospital.
South Korea says one of its citizens was slightly hurt.
Turkey’s deputy prime minister has reportedly said that two of the 15 wounded have serious injuries.
Erdogan condemns attack and critics
The Turkish government convened an emergency session in the capital Ankara, chaired by PM Ahmet Davutoğlu.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned what he described as a terrorist attack. He went on to tell a gathering of diplomats in Ankara that Turkey was the number one target in the region for terrorism.
In a lengthy attack on “intellectuals” and those who criticise Turkey’s human rights record, he said either people were with the government fighting terrorists including ISIL and the Kurdish PKK, or they were on the side of “those with bombs and guns” and would be “punished”.
A broadcast ban on the events was imposed by the Turkish authorities – which was then blamed in some quarters for adding to the confusion.
There are reports that police at the scene have prevented journalists from taking photos because of the ban.
Turkey has been on high alert, with the government engaged on several fronts against Kurdish separatists in the southeast, Islamist extremists from the self-styled Islamic State, and various other smaller groups.
Violence in the southeast of the country has risen since a ceasefire between the state and the PKK ended.
Bomb blasts in Ankara in October were blamed by the government on ISIL. Two suicide bombers attacked a peace rally in the run up to the country’s elections, killing over 100 people.
More than 30 people were killed in an attack near the border with Syria in July.
Istanbul has also suffered smaller scale attacks. One person was killed in an explosion at the city’s second airport, on the Asian side, shortly before Christmas. Five were injured in a blast near a metro station earlier in December.