An explosion tore through a busy Istanbul shopping street yesterday, killing six and wounding dozens in what Turkiye’s president said bore the signs of a “terror” attack.
Police cordoned off an area around Istiklal, where there were dense crowds yesterday afternoon, and helicopters flew over the city centre as sirens sounded.
“I was 50-55m away, suddenly there was the noise of an explosion. I saw three or four people on the ground,” witness Cemal Denizci, 57, told AFP.
“People were running in panic. The noise was huge. There was black smoke,” he said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned what he called a “vile attack”.
“It might be wrong if we say for sure that this is terror but according to first signs... there is a smell of terror there,” Erdogan told a press conference.
Turkiye’s vice president Fuat Oktay said: “We believe that it is a terrorist act carried out by an attacker, whom we consider to be a woman, exploding the bomb”.
Authorities offered few details and nobody immediately claimed responsibility, but Turkish cities in the past have been struck by Islamists and other groups.
Istiklal Avenue had been hit in the past during a campaign of attacks in 2015-2016 that targeted Istanbul and other cities including the capital Ankara.
Those bombings were mostly blamed on the Islamic State group and outlawed Kurdish militants, and killed nearly 500 people and injured more than 2,000.
Yesterday’s explosion occurred shortly after 4pm in the famous shopping street which is popular with locals and tourists.
According to images posted on social media at the time of the explosion, it was followed by flames and immediately triggered panic, with people running in all directions.
A large black crater was also visible in those images, as well as several bodies lying on the ground nearby.
According to an AFP correspondent on the scene, police established a large security cordon to prevent access to the damaged area for fear of a second explosion.
Istiklal, in the historic district of Beyoglu, is one of the most famous arteries of Istanbul, entirely pedestrianised for 1.4km (nearly a mile).
Criss-crossed by an old tramway, lined with shops and restaurants, it is used by large crowds during the weekend.