(Istanbul) An attack on Sunday targeted the beating heart of Istanbul, the main city and economic capital of Turkey, killing at least six people and injuring dozens in the busy shopping street of Istiklal.
The high-powered explosion occurred around 4:20 p.m. (8:20 a.m.), when the crowd was particularly dense in this popular promenade area for Istanbulites and tourists.
In a statement to the press and live on television, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced a “vile attack” which left “six dead and 53 injured”.
“The first observations suggest a terrorist attack,” said the head of state, adding that “a woman would be involved”, without further details.
Rumors circulated immediately after the explosion evoking a suicide attack, without any confirmation or evidence.
The attack had not been claimed in the early evening.
“The perpetrators of this vile attack will be unmasked. Let our people be sure (that they) will be punished”, promised Mr. Erdogan who had already faced a campaign of terror across the country in 2015-2016.
Claimed in part by the Islamic State group, it had killed nearly 500 people and injured more than 2,000.
An initial assessment by the governor of Istanbul, Ali Yerlikaya, had reported four dead and 38 injured.
The police immediately established a wide security cordon to prevent access to the bruised area for fear of a second explosion. An imposing deployment of security forces also blocked all access to the neighborhood and the adjacent streets, noted the AFP videographer.
“I was 50-55 m away, suddenly there was a sound of an explosion. I saw three or four people on the ground,” a witness, Cemal Denizci, 57, told AFP.
“People were running in panic. The noise was huge. There was black smoke. The sound was so loud, almost deafening,” he reported.
According to images posted on social networks at the time of the explosion, it, accompanied by flames, was heard from afar and immediately triggered a panic.
A large black crater is visible in these images, along with several fallen bodies lying nearby.
The mayor of Istanbul Ekrem Imamoglu quickly went there: “I was briefed by the fire teams on Istiklal. They are continuing their work in coordination with the police,” he said on Twitter, offering his condolences to the victims and their relatives.
In the neighboring district of Galata, many shops have lowered their curtains early. Some passers-by, who came running from the site of the explosion, had tears in their eyes, noted an AFP journalist.
Dissemination of images prohibited
At nightfall, the terraces of the restaurants in this very touristy district remained partly empty.
The Turkish Audiovisual High Council (RTUK) quickly banned the audiovisual media from broadcasting images of the scene, a decision justified by the director of presidential communication and close adviser to President Erdogan, Farhettin Altun, to “prevent the sowing of fear, panic and unrest in society and (risking) serving the purposes of terrorist organizations”.
“All institutions and organizations in our state are conducting a prompt, meticulous and effective investigation into the incident,” he promised in a statement.
The emotion is intense in Istanbul, already hard hit in the past. The matches of the major Istanbul soccer clubs, including Galatasaray, have been canceled.
Istiklal Street, which means “Independence”, in the historical district of Beyoglu, is one of the most famous arteries of Istanbul, entirely pedestrianized for 1.4 km. Crisscrossed by an old tramway, lined with shops and restaurants, it is used by nearly 3 million people a day during the weekend.
She had already been hit in March 2016 by a suicide attack that left five people dead.
In Greece, with which Ankara has strained relations, the Foreign Ministry has “unequivocally condemned terrorism and expresses its sincere condolences to the Turkish government and people”.