Suicide Bomber Kills Four in Istanbul, Israeli Citizens Among Victims

At least 36 were wounded in the second bombing to rock Turkey in the past week; Turkish official: Evidence suggest bomber may have been ISIS or PKK.

Turkish police, forensics and emergency services work on the scene of an explosion on the pedestrian Istiklal avenue in Istanbul on March 19, 2016.
AFP

A suicide bomber killed himself and four others in a central Istanbul shopping and tourism district on Saturday, wounding at least 36 people in the fourth such attack in Turkey this year. The victims included foreign nationals, Israelis among them.

The blast sent panicked shoppers scurrying into side alleys off Istiklal Street, a long pedestrian avenue lined with international stores and foreign consulates, a few hundred meters from an area where police buses are often stationed. 

Two Israeli fatalities were confirmed in the attack, while another Israeli was feared dead. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that the Israelis who were wounded in the blast were part of a 14-member tour group. 

CCTV: Moment of suicide blast in central Istanbul

The Turkish foreign minister said in response to the bombing that the "fight against terrorism to continue with full force."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, which two senior officials said could have been carried out by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), fighting for Kurdish autonomy in the southeast, or by an Islamic State militant.

One of the officials said the bomber had planned to hit a more crowded location but was deterred by the police presence.

"The attacker detonated the bomb before reaching the target point because they were scared of the police," the official said, declining to be named as the investigation is ongoing.

Another official said investigations were focusing on three possible suspects, all of them male and two of them from the southern city of Gaziantep near the Syrian border. There was no further confirmation of this. 

Armed police sealed off the shopping street where half a dozen ambulances had gathered. Forensic teams in white suits searched for evidence as police helicopters buzzed overhead. 

A man is helped by emergency services members following a suicide bombing in a major shopping and tourist district in central Istanbul March 19, 2016
Reuters

"It was one loud explosion," said Muhammed Fatur, a Syrian who works at a nearby butcher shop. "Police came to the scene and sealed off the area."

Ireland said "a number" of Irish were hurt, while broadcaster NTV said two Icelandic citizens were also injured. Turkish officials said one Iranian was among the dead.

Turkey had heightened security in Ankara and Istanbul in the run-up to a Kurdish spring festival of Newroz on March 21, which Kurds in Turkey traditionally use to assert their ethnic identity and demand greater rights.

Turkish police push people away after an explosion on the pedestrian Istiklal avenue in Istanbul on March 19, 2016.
AFP

The explosion comes as Turkey is on edge following two recent suicide bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara.

On Sunday, 37 people were killed and another 125 were wounded in a suicide car bombing in Ankara. The explosion occurred less than a month after a car bomb attack in central Ankara killed 29 people. Kurdish militants claimed responsibility for that attack.