Suspect arrested in Istanbul blast that killed 6 and injured dozens
Istanbul – Police have detained a suspect believed to have planted the bomb that detonated on a busy pedestrian street in Istanbul, Turkey’s interior minister said on Monday, adding that initial evidence suggests Kurdish militants were responsible for the were responsible for the fatal attack.
Sunday’s blast on Istiklal Avenue, a popular thoroughfare lined with shops and restaurants that leads to famed Taksim Square, killed six people and wounded several dozen others.
“Some time ago, the person who left the bomb was arrested by our Istanbul Police Department teams,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu was quoted as saying by Anadolu Agency. He did not identify the suspect but said 21 other people were also arrested for questioning.
The minister said the evidence obtained pointed to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and its Syrian offshoot, the PYD. He said the attack would be avenged.
“Those who inflicted this pain on Istiklal Avenue will inflict much more pain on us,” Soylu said.
Soylu also blamed the United States, saying a White House message of condolence is akin to a “murderer showing up first at a crime scene.” Turkey accuses the US of supporting Syrian Kurdish groups.
Soylu said of the 81 people who were hospitalized, 50 have been discharged. Five of the wounded were receiving emergency medical attention and two of them were in critical condition, he said.
The PKK has been fighting an insurgency in Turkey since 1984. The conflict has since killed tens of thousands of people.
Ankara and Washington regard the PKK as a terrorist group, but they differ on the issue of the Syrian Kurdish groups that have been fighting the Islamic State group in Syria.
Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay told reporters while visiting the site of the blast earlier in the day, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency that the blast was considered an act of terrorism and that a woman was behind the attack. Derya Yanik, Turkey’s Minister of Family and Social Services, said in a tweet that one of her colleagues and his daughter were two of the people who died in the blast.
Footage released online showed ambulances, fire engines and police at the scene on Istiklal Avenue, a popular thoroughfare lined with shops and restaurants that leads to the famous Taksim Square. In one VideoThere was a loud bang and flames to be seen as pedestrians turned and ran away.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the blast an “insidious attack” and said perpetrators would be punished.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the US “strongly condemns the act of violence that took place in Istanbul.”
“Our thoughts are with the injured and our deepest condolences go out to those who have lost loved ones. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our NATO ally Turkiye in the fight against terrorism,” Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, also responded to news of the blast, saying the organization was “in solidarity” with Turkey.
“Shocking images from #Istanbul”, Stoltenberg tweeted. “My thoughts and deepest condolences to all those affected and to the Turkish people. #NATO stands in solidarity with our ally #Türkiye.”
In addition to the six people killed, Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya initially tweeted that another 53 were injured – casualty figures also given by Erdogan. Yerlikaya later told state news that the number had grown to 81, as had Erdogan and Oktay, Anadolu reported.
At a press conference held before leaving for Indonesia for the G20 summit, Erdogan said early observations indicate a woman was involved in the attack and told reporters whoever was responsible, according to Anadolu, has been identified would become.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told pro-government broadcaster A Haber that investigators focused on a woman who sat on a bench at the scene for about 40 minutes. The explosion happened just minutes after she left. He said their identities are not yet clear, nor is it clear which group could be behind the attack.
Turkey was hit by a series of deadly bombings by Islamic State group and banned Kurdish groups between 2015 and 2017. More than 500 civilians and security personnel were killed in the attacks.
Following these attacks, Turkey launched cross-border military operations in Syria and northern Iraq against Kurdish militants while also cracking down on Kurdish politicians, journalists and activists at home.
While the PKK is viewed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, critics say Erdogan has also used broad terror laws to stifle freedom of expression.
Most recently, Turkey passed a controversial “disinformation law” that provides for a prison sentence of up to three years for social media users who spread false information about internal or international security, public order or health. Critics have said the article’s wording is so vague that it can be used to root out dissent.
Police said Sunday they had identified 25 social media users who had shared “provocative content” that could violate that law.
In another example of the country’s press restrictions, Turkey’s media regulator also imposed temporary restrictions on coverage of the blast on Sunday – a move that bans the use of close-ups and photographs of the blast and its aftermath. The Supreme Council for Radio and Television has imposed similar bans in the past following attacks and accidents.
Access to Twitter and other social media sites has also been restricted.
French President Emmanuel Macron noted on Sunday that the attack in Istanbul came exactly seven years after Islamic State extremists killed 130 people in Paris cafes, the Bataclan theater and the French national stadium.
“On such a symbolic day for our nation, remembering the victims of November 13, 2015, the Turkish people have been hit by an attack on their heart, Istanbul,” Macron said. “To the Turks: We share your pain. We stand by you in the fight against terrorism.”