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Europe

Kurdish militants claim deadly twin blasts in Istanbul

© Yasin Akgul, AFP

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-12-11

Kurdish militants have claimed responsibility for coordinated double attacks near an Istanbul soccer stadium Saturday night that killed 30 police officers and at least eight others.

The militant Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) claimed responsibility for the deadly explosions in a statement on Sunday.

The bombs targeted police officers, Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters earlier. He added that 10 people had been arrested in connection with the “terrorist attack”.

The civilian death toll was lower because fans had already left the newly built Vodafone Arena Stadium after the soccer match. Witnesses also said they heard gunfire after the explosions.

“We have once again witnessed tonight in Istanbul the ugly face of terror which tramples on every value and decency,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement.

A national day of mourning was declared on Sunday for the victims of the attacks.

The first bomb went off just outside the facility, known locally as Besiktas Stadium. The second blast that came moments later and was attributed by authorities to a suicide bomber.

Police cordoned off the area as smoke rose from behind the stadium and ambulances began ferrying the wounded to hospitals. Glass from the blown-out windows of nearby buildings littered the pavement.

Istanbul has witnessed a spate of attacks attributed by authorities to the Islamic State (IS) group or claimed by Kurdish militants, including TAK, over the past year. A state of emergency remains in force following a failed July 15 coup attempt.

Soylu acknowledged that the country was struggling against “many elements” trying to compromise its fight against terrorism.

Turkey is a partner in the US-led coalition against the IS group and its armed forces are active in neighbouring Syria and Iraq. It is also facing a renewed conflict with an outlawed Kurdish movement in the southeast.

Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said Washington condemns the attack in “the strongest terms".

“We stand together with Turkey, our NATO Ally, against all terrorists who threaten Turkey, the United States, and global peace and stability,” Price said in a statement.

A taxi driver at the site of the Istanbul bombings said their force made him hit his head on the taximeter and that his ears were still ringing from the blasts and screaming that followed.

“Amid the screams I heard an officer saying ‘Do not shout! Do not satisfy them (the perpetrators),” said Ismail Coskun.

The first and larger explosion took place about 7:30pm GMT after the home team Besiktas beat visitor Bursaspor 2-1 in the Turkish Super League. Erdogan said the timing of the attack aimed to maximise the loss of life and vowed the nation would overcome terrorism.

Soylu said the first explosion was caused by a passing vehicle that detonated in an area where police special forces were located at the stadium exit right after the match. A riot police bus appears to have been the target.

Kurdish militants often target the security forces while IS group attacks have mainly targeted tourists and the broader public.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said a person who had been stopped in the nearby Macka Park committed suicide by triggering explosives.

Investigators, including Istanbul Police Chief Mustafa Caliskan, were quickly on the scene. Forensic experts in white uniforms scoured the vicinity of the stadium and the vast park where the suicide bombing took place.

The Besiktas sports club “strongly condemned” the attack and said an employee of one of its stores was among the fatalities, as well as a member of its congress who was also responsible for security at the stadium.

Bursaspor reported that none of the wounded were fans and issued a statement wishing “a speedy recovery to our wounded citizens”.

Health Minister Recep Akdag said six of the wounded remained in intensive care, with three of them in critical condition.

Aleksander Ceferin, president of European soccer’s governing body UEFA, and European Union Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, also made statements condemning the attack.

“Violence has no place in a democratic society,” Hahn wrote on Twitter.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini expressed the bloc’s “solidarity with Turkish citizens".

The US Consulate General in Istanbul, meanwhile, urged its citizens to avoid the area, which is also home to a Ritz Carlton hotel.

Turkey’s radio and television board issued a temporary ban on media coverage, citing national security concerns.

It advised the public “to avoid broadcasts that can result in public fear, panic or chaos, or that will serve the aims of terrorist organisations”.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2016-12-10

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