Istanbul, Turkey | AFP |
Turkish police detained four people in a hunt for the perpetrators of a car bombing in central Istanbul Tuesday that killed seven police and four civilians, state media said.
The third deadly attack in Turkey’s biggest city in six months targeted a bus transporting anti-riot police in Beyazit district, close to many of the city’s top tourist sites, Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin said on Turkish television.
Thirty-six people were wounded, three of them seriously, he added.
The four suspects were taken to police headquarters in Istanbul for interrogation, state-run Anatolia agency said, without providing further information.
There was no early claim of responsibility, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was behind the attack.
For the PKK to target major cities such as Istanbul “is nothing new,” he said after visiting the injured at an Istanbul hospital.
“We will fight against terrorists relentlessly to the end.”
In a statement from his office later, Erdogan also vowed the culprits would “pay the price for the blood they shed.”
Kurdish militants have repeatedly targeted Turkey’s security forces, but Islamic State (IS) jihadists have also staged attacks around the country, including in Istanbul, in the past year.
Reports said the explosion took place close to Vezneciler metro station, within walking distance of some of the city’s main tourist sites including the Grand Bazaar and Suleymaniye Mosque.
The blast reduced the police vehicle to mangled wreckage and windows in nearby shops were shattered. Reports said that shots were heard afterwards.
The attack occurred outside the upscale Celal Aga Konagi Hotel, a converted Ottoman mansion that is favoured by foreign tourists.
The 16th-century Sehzade Mosque — considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan — was also damaged by the force of the explosion.
Television footage showed its windows blown out and debris littering the floor.
Loudspeakers on mosques warned people to vacate the area, after which a controlled explosion was carried out on a suspect vehicle.
Erdogan, who flew back to Ankara later in the day, chaired a security summit at the presidential palace, with several ministers as well as the top army general and spy chief.
French President Francois Hollande condemned the attack as an “intolerable act of violence” that should strengthen common resolve to fight terrorism.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Berlin was “on the side of Turkey in the fight against terrorism” and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also expressed solidarity.
US Ambassador to Ankara John Bass said in a Twitter message: “Such senseless violence could never be rationalised by any cause.”
The United States will “continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Turkey in the fight against terrorism,” Bass said. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also reaffirmed support.
Tuesday’s bombing, which occurred on the second day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, is the latest in a string of attacks that have rattled citizens and damaged tourism.
Two blasts in Ankara claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) — a radical splinter group of the better-known PKK — earlier this year claimed dozens of lives.
Last month, at least eight people including soldiers were wounded by a remotely-detonated car bomb targeting a military vehicle in Istanbul that was claimed by the PKK.
Turkey has stepped up its military campaign against the Kurdish rebels in the southeast of the country and in neighbouring Iraq.
Warplanes dropped bombs on PKK targets in northern Iraq Monday night, Turkish media reported.
On January 12, a dozen German tourists were killed in a bombing in the heart of Istanbul’s tourist district blamed on Islamic State.
Two months later, three Israelis and an Iranian were killed in a bombing on Istanbul’s main Istiklal shopping street which was also blamed on IS.
Turkey, a member of NATO and the US-led anti-jihadist coalition, has responded defiantly to the attacks, vowing to overcome the threat both from the PKK and Islamic State.
The Kurdish militants have in turn threatened more attacks.
Tourism industry hit
The violence has had a devastating effect on the tourism industry, with the latest attack coming at the worst possible time, at the outset of the key summer season.
Some 1.75 million foreigners came to Turkey in April, down more than 28 percent on April 2015, the tourism ministry said in its latest release.
The fall was the steepest monthly decrease for 17 years and raised fresh concerns about the health of the industry.
Britain has urged its citizens to avoid all but essential travel to Turkey’s southeast and to remain vigilant in crowded places popular with tourists.
The US embassy in Turkey in April warned of “credible threats” to tourist areas in Istanbul and the resort city of Antalya, especially in public squares and docks.