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Suicide blast kills tourists, mostly Germans, in Istanbul

© Bulent Kilic, AFP | Turkish police block access to the Blue Mosque area after a deadly blast rocked Istanbul's tourist hub of Sultanahmet on January 12, 2016.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-01-13

A suicide bomber, who is believed to have entered Turkey from Syria, blew himself up in the heart of Istanbul’s historic tourist district Tuesday, killing at least 10 people, mostly German tourists.

The blast ripped Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square, near the iconic Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia -- among the world’s most visited tourist sites -- around 10:20am local time.

'Germany in shock'

Witnesses reported hearing a loud blast at the square, and video footage showed police and ambulances at the scene shortly after the attack.

“I was in my office on the third floor and I heard the explosion,” said Ismet Bogan, who works in a travel agency located near Sultanahmet Square, in an interview with FRANCE 24. “We couldn’t go out right away because there could have been a second explosion. After around ten minutes, I went out and Turkish police had sealed off the square.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the attack in a speech to Turkish ambassadors in the capital, Ankara, which was broadcast live on national TV.

"I condemn the terror incident in Istanbul, assessed to be an attack by a suicide bomber with Syrian origin," said Erdogan.

For further coverage, see Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Islamic State (IS) group was responsible for the suicide attack. He identified the 10 victims as foreign tourists, mostly German nationals.

Davutoglu said he spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel hours after the attack and had expressed his condolences.

A Peruvian national was also killed and another wounded in the attack, according to the Peruvian Foreign Ministry.

There were no official figures of the number of wounded although Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said two of the injured were in serious condition

Conflicting reports on origins of attacker

Reporting from Istanbul, FRANCE 24’s Jasper Mortimer said Turkish authorities had identified the suicide bomber as “a Syrian man who would have turned 28 this year. Turkish officials say there is a high probability he worked for the Islamic State group, and of the three militant groups operating in Turkey at the moment, it is the Islamic State group that has been carrying out most of the bombings in public places recently.”

A number of militant groups operate in Turkey, including the Kurdish PKK group and the Marxist-Leninist DHKP-C.

So far no militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Previous attacks believed to have been conducted by the IS group, including a deadly October 10 attack in Ankara, have not been officially claimed by the IS group.

Hours after Tuesday's attack, there were conflicting reports surrounding the origin and nationality of the suicide bomber.

Erdogan and other senior Turkish officials identified the attacker as a Syrian national. However, leading Turkish daily, Hurriyet, identified the bomber as Saudi-born Nabil Fadli.

According to Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Kurtulmus, the suicide bomber is believed to have recently entered Turkey from Syria and was not on Turkey's watch list of suspected militants.

Kurtulmus said thousands of people were being tracked for suspected militant links but the bomber was not one of them.

Turkey takes on the IS group

Monday’s suicide bombing was the latest in a series of attacks, attributed to the IS group, that have ripped Turkey in recent months, including the October 2014 Ankara bombing, which killed 100 people.

Following an initial reluctance by Ergodan’s government to restrict the movement of Islamist fighters across the 900-kilometre Turkish-Syrian border, Ankara has closed the border and is taking a more active role in the coalition fight against the IS group.Turkey has also granted the international coalition access to its Incirlik base, a move that has put the country in the IS group’s crosshairs.

“Things have changed,” noted Wassim Nasr, FRANCE 24’s expert on jihadist groups. “Turkey is fighting the Islamic State group along with the coalition and a lot of the propaganda material put out by the Islamic State group feature Turkish jihadis threatening to conduct operations in Turkey, calling the Turkish population to rise against Erdogan, who is called Taghut,” said Nasr, using a term in jihadist discourse for someone who has crossed the line or rebelled.

The attack has raised fears of further damage to Turkey’s tourism industry, which has already been hit by a diplomatic row between Ankara and Moscow following the Turkish downing of a Russian plane by the Syrian border.

“The tourism industry has already suffered a lot this year,” said Mortimer. “While walking to Sultanahmet Square, which is surrounded by shops and restaurants, I saw no customers in the shops, and shopkeepers and restaurant owners were sitting by their doors with very long faces.”

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2016-01-12

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