NEWS | Istanbul Suicide Bombing, 9 out of 10 Killed are Germans
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NEWS | Istanbul Suicide Bombing, 9 out of 10 Killed are Germans

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A Syrian suicide bomber struck a central Istanbul district that is popular with tourists on January 12, killing at least 10 people including several foreigners, Turkish authorities said. The attack has been blamed on the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists.

NEWS | Istanbul Suicide Bombing, 10 Killed

A senior official said at least nine of those killed are believed to be German, Western news agencies reported. At least 15 people were injured.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a Syria-linked suicide attacker was responsible for the blast in the Sultanahmet district. At least 15 people were wounded. 

"I strongly condemn the terror attack which was carried out by a suicide bomber of Syrian origin," Erdogan said in televised remarks in the capital, Ankara.

"The first target of all the terror groups active in this region is Turkey, because Turkey fights them all with the same determination," Erdogan said.

NEWS | Istanbul Suicide Bombing, 10 Killed

Erdogan said both Turkish and foreign nationals were among the dead in the blast, which occurred just meters from Istanbul’s historic Blue Mosque.

"Unfortunately...there are fatalities, including locals and foreigners," he said, without providing further details. 

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said most of those killed were foreigners, and two of the wounded were in serious condition. Kurtulmus, speaking in Ankara, said the bomber was a 28-year-old Syrian man.

Turkey's state-run news agency Anatolia reported that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu informed German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a telephone conversation that most of those killed were German.

Merkel acknowledged it was very likely that Germans were among the casualties.

"We are seriously concerned that German citizens could be and probably are among the victims and injured," Merkel said in Berlin.

"Today, Istanbul was hit. Paris has been hit. Tunisia has been hit. Ankara has been hit before," Merkel said. "International terrorism is once again showing its cruel and inhuman face today."

NEWS | Istanbul Suicide Bombing, 10 Killed

Television footage showed several bodies and body parts laying on the ground in pools of blood. Ambulances rushed to the scene of the blast, while police cordoned off the area, taking precautions against a possible second explosion.

The Sultanahmet district is Istanbul's main tourist attraction and also includes the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Islamic State was behind the attack. Turkey is determined to battle the militant group until it no longer “remains a threat” to the country or the world, Davutoglu said.

Omer Celik, the spokesman for Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's ruling party, condemned in a statement what he called "a heinous attack."

Davutoglu's office imposed a broadcasting ban on the blast, invoking a law which allows for such measures when national security or public order are potentially under threat. The move prompted criticism.

Davutoglu also convened an emergency security meeting of key ministers and officials. Among those taking part in the meeting were Interior Minister Efkan Ala and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, Anatolia reported.

Norway's Foreign Ministry said one Norwegian man was injured in the attack, while Germany warned its citizens to avoid crowds and tourist sites in Istanbul.

"Travelers in Istanbul are strongly urged to avoid for now large groups of people in public places, as well as tourist attractions, and to stay abreast of the situation via these official travel advisories and the media," the German Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The European Union said it stands with Turkey in the fight "against all forms of terrorism" after the explosion in the heart of Istanbul.

Turkey and the EU "must step up our efforts to counter extremist violence," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

Kurdish, leftist, and Islamist militants have all carried out attacks in Turkey in recent months.

The Sultanahmet district is Istanbul's main tourist attraction and also includes the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia.

Police sealed off the area as ambulances rushed to the scene of the blast. A police officer at the scene said authorities were taking precautions against a possible second explosion.

The January 12 blast comes just over a year after a female suicide bomber blew herself up in the same area, killing one police officer and wounding another. 

A far-left group initially claimed that attack, but officials later said a woman with suspected Islamist militant links was responsible.

Turkey also remains on high alert after a series of attacks which authorities said were perpetrated by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

In October last year, two suicide bombings in the capital, Ankara, killed 103 people. Prosecutors said the attack was carried out by IS militants.

Violence has also escalated in the mainly Kurdish southeast since a two-year cease-fire collapsed in July 2015 between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, after a suicide bombing by suspected IS militants killed at least 30 people in the town of Suruc on the Syrian border. 

That attack targeted a cultural center as a Kurdish political group was conducting a press conference.
The PKK, which has been fighting for three decades for Kurdish autonomy, accused the Turkish security forces of collaborating with Islamic State.

However, the Kurdish militant group has generally refrained from attacking civilian targets in urban centers outside the southeast in recent years.

With reporting by RFE/RL Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.