ISTANBUL — An afternoon explosion on one of Turkey’s busiest shopping thoroughfares Sunday killed at least six people and injured dozens more, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, calling the explosion a “treacherous attack.”
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Monday that the person who left the bomb that caused the explosion has been arrested, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
At least 81 people were injured in the attack. Erdogan, in remarks to reporters on Sunday shortly before departing Turkey for the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, said, “If we say that this is terror it might be wrong, but with the initial developments and with the information that my governor has relayed to us, there is the smell of terror.” He added that there were initial reports that a woman fleeing the scene had played some role.
Turkey over the past decade has been a frequent target of attacks carried out by militants from the Islamic State extremist group or Kurdish groups, among others. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the explosion, but Soylu, in his comments Monday, appeared to blame the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has fought a long insurgency against Turkey’s government.
The “order” for the attack came from a town in northern Syria controlled by an affiliate of the PKK, he said, without providing further detail, according to Anadolu.
“We will show them a response,” he said.
Ali Yerlikaya, the regional governor of Istanbul, said in a message posted on Twitter that the explosion occurred shortly after 4 p.m. local time. It was audible for miles around, in a neighborhood known for tourist attractions and shops that are a magnet for locals as well as the millions of visitors who have ventured to Istanbul as pandemic fears over travel have begun to subside.
Unverified videos shared on social media showed what appeared to be several bodies lying on the ground, on a stretch of Istiklal near Istanbul’s Taksim Square. Ambulances could be seen racing from the scene through throngs of people shortly after the explosion. Istanbul’s mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, appealed for calm on social media and called on people to assist authorities at the site.
Later Sunday, Turkey’s justice minister, Bekir Bozdag, told local broadcaster A News that before the explosion, “a woman was sitting on a bench for 40, 45 minutes” on Istiklal. “After she got up, the explosion took place. Right now all data regarding this woman is being investigated. Her name is not clear yet,” the network quoted him as saying.
Istiklal Avenue, sometimes called Istanbul’s Champs-Élysées, was the site of a suicide bombing in March 2016 that killed five people, including two U.S. nationals, and injured dozens more. Every day of the week, the street is filled with people — Turkish citizens, along with tourists from a multitude of countries — strolling or visiting large chain stores that have outlets on Istiklal, as well as a handful of shopping malls.
The street is populated with vendors selling chestnuts, mussels and simit, a type of bread ring coated with sesame seeds. Musicians perform along the boulevard, drawing listeners. On evenings and weekend days, the crowds are thick.
Soylu said the dead, all born in Turkey, came from three families. He named them as Arzu Ozsoy and her daughter Yagmur Ucar; Yusuf Meydan and his daughter Ecrin Meydan; and Adem Topkara and Mukaddes Elif Topkara, a married couple.
Turkey’s government announced an investigation into the attack, saying eight prosecutors were being assigned to the case. It also responded by forbidding the sharing of information about the explosion, apart from statements by officials.
The country’s radio and television authority announced a “broadcast ban” on coverage of the explosion, according to a message posted on its Twitter account. Another agency, which regulates internet communications, said it was implementing “band reduction” on social media platforms, in the interest of blocking messages “contrary to press ethics and terrorist content,” local media outlets reported.
Timsit reported from London.