(Istanbul) Panic gripped the heart of Istanbul (Turkey) on Sunday after a strong explosion of unknown origin which left at least four people dead and injured, in the busy shopping street of Istiklal.
“According to initial information, four people lost their lives and 38 were injured in the explosion that took place on Istiklal Street,” Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya wrote on Twitter.
“Police, health, fire and rescue teams have been dispatched to the scene. We have injuries and loss of life,” he said earlier.
This is the only official reaction since this explosion which occurred around 4:20 p.m. (8:20 a.m.), when the crowd was particularly dense in this popular place for walking on Sundays, Istanbulites and tourists.
Less than an hour after the events, the Turkish Audiovisual High Council (RTUK) also prohibited the audiovisual media from broadcasting images of the scene.
According to the AFP videographer who went there, the police 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 blocks all access.
“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.
The area was completely evacuated.
The police cordoned off access to Istiklal Street and adjacent streets, and helicopters flew over the city center where numerous sirens sounded.
Families with children in their arms tried to run away from the neighborhood.
In the neighboring district of Galata, many shops have lowered their curtains.
Passers-by and tourists continued to walk around – much less than usual – some with their purchases in their hands, but others, who had come running from the site of the explosion, had tears in their eyes, noted a AFP journalist.
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 movement with people running in all directions.
A large black crater is visible in these images, along with several fallen bodies lying nearby.
The emotion is intense in Istanbul, already hard hit in the past.
Itstiqlal Street had already been hit in the past, during a campaign of attacks in 2015-2016 which targeted several Turkish cities including Istanbul. Claimed in part by the jihadist group Islamic State, these attacks left nearly 500 dead and more than 2,000 injured.