Istanbul suicide bomber kills four and injures dozens in attack on popular shopping street

Originally published in The Times.

At least four people have been killed in a suicide bombing in central Istanbul in an attack which could have been the work of Isis, according to Turkish officials.

The bomber, who has not yet been identified, blew himself up in a busy shopping street which is also home to foreign consulates. A further 36 people have been injured in the attack, including 12 foreigners.

“This is a suicide attack, a terrorist attack,” the governor of Istanbul Vasip Sahin told reporters.

Turkish officials have claimed that evidence recovered so far could point to the bomber being an Isis militant. Other reports have suggested the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was behind the attack.

Witnesses described feeling the ground shake and seeing body parts scattered across the street after the man detonated his bomb. Police quickly sealed off the area and ambulances have been seen ferrying the injured, seven of whom are said to be critically hurt, to hospital.

The area is usually full of tourists and shoppers, but was quieter than normal this morning because of the increasing terror threat. Today’s attack is the latest in a string of deadly bombings in Turkey’s major cities in recent months, as the country’s conflicts with both Kurdish separatists and Isis have hotted up.

A suicide bombing in Ankara six days ago killed 35 people waiting at a bus station. The Kurdistan Freedom Hawks, a militant breakaway group of the PKK, have claimed responsibility.

A devastating bombing at Ankara Central train station in October last year, which left more than 100 people dead, is believed to have been the work of Isis.

DNA evidence identified one of the two attackers as the younger brother of an Isis suicide bomber who blew himself up in the Kurdish town of Suruc, close to the border with Syria.

Israel’s foreign ministry has confirmed that that Israeli citizens were among the injured, but the nationalities of the other foreigners hurt in the blast are not yet known.

Earlier this week the Turkish authorities had raised security in Ankara and Istanbul because of the coming Kurdish festival of Newroz on Monday. Traditionally, the festival has seen increased activity by Kurds seeking to assert their identity and demand more rights.

Cengiz Fidaner, who owns a cafe on a side street near the explosion site, told the AP news agency “the explosion was not so big but I felt it in my heart because our people died. They want a war but our people want peace. This is because of Newroz.”

Previous attacks:

13 March –  A car bomb targeted bustling bus stops in central Ankara, killing 35 people and injured more than 100 others. The bombing was later claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks.
17 February – Another car bomb destroyed lorries carrying soldiers and civilian staff from the defence headquarters while they waited a traffic lights. The final death toll came to around 28 people; the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks also took responsibility, claiming it was retaliation against Turkish military operations in Kurdish regions of the country.
12 January – An Isis suicide bomber from Syria, who had entered Turkey days earlier claiming to be a refugee, killed 13 foreigners in Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet district, popular with tourists.
10 October – Two suicide bombers killed 103 people outside Ankara Central train station. The attack appeared to target a peace rally organised by trade unions and opposition parties. Isis are suspected to have been behind the carnage.