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Turkey blames ISIL for bomb in Istanbul's tourist heart

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By Alasdair Sandford  with Reuters
Turkey blames ISIL for bomb in Istanbul's tourist heart
  • Explosion in Istanbul tourist district
  • At least ten killed, 15 injured
  • Erdogan says Syrian suicide bomber suspected
  • Eight of the dead were German nationals

Erdogan: “Bomb blast was a suicide attack by a Syrian attacker

What has happened?

The Turkish government is blaming an ISIL suicide bomber from Syria for the carnage that left at least 10 people dead and 15 injured in a blast in Istanbul on Tuesday morning.

It happened in the heart of the Turkish city’s tourist district, close to the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet Square. The prime minister has said all those killed were foreign nationals; Germany has confirmed that eight of its nationals were among the dead.

A Peruvian man was killed and a woman injured, according to the country’s foreign ministry.

The injured are said to include a Norwegian and a South Korean.

President Erdogan has condemned the attack and strongly denounced government critics as siding with the terrorists.

In Washington the White House and the State Department condemned the attack. A spokesman for the National Security Council said the US stood by its NATO ally Turkey, pledging “our ongoing cooperation and support in the fight against terrorism”.

Russia’s foreign ministry said the Istanbul attack confirmed the need for countries to join forces urgently to battle terrorism. President Putin has been pushing for an over-arching international coalition against Islamist militants in Syria and elsewhere.

The explosion happened shortly after 10 o’clock local time. The emergency services sprang into action, taking the wounded to hospital. Police desperately tried to clear the square, fearing a second follow-up explosion.

Earlier, the German foreign ministry tweeted to advise travellers in Istanbul to avoid crowds provisionally.

At least one German tourist operator has given its customers the choice of cancelling booked trips to Istanbul. TUI, which says it had ten German tourists in the Turkish city on Tuesday who were not affected by the attack, said its clients could cancel or change bookings made until January 18.

Erdogan condemns attack and critics

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the bomber was thought to have recently entered the country from Syria and was not on Turkey’s watch list of suspected militants.

The Turkish government convened an emergency security meeting in the capital Ankara, chaired by Prime Minister 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 were reports that police at the scene prevented journalists from taking photos because of the ban.

The context

Amid rising violence and tension, the government has been engaged on several fronts. It blamed ISIL for bomb blasts in Ankara in October that killed over 100. More than 30 people died in an attack near the Syrian border in July.

It has also been battling Kurdish militants in the southeast following the breakdown of a ceasefire, as well as smaller groups elsewhere.

Istanbul has suffered relatively small scale attacks – at least one blamed on a left wing political group.

But Tuesday’s atrocity, the latest of several in Europe and north Africa to apparently target Western tourists, is on another dimension.