A suspected terrorist bomb blast Tuesday morning in Istanbul’s main Sultanahmet Square, a popular tourist spot in the center of the capital, has killed at least 10 people, including nine German citizens.
The explosion went off next to a German tourist group close to the Hagia Sofia, a former Byzantine church that is one of Istanbul’s biggest sightseeing spots, according to several media reports.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke of a suicide bomber with Syrian roots at a press conference broadcast on Turkish television. Turkey’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, said authorities had “determined that the perpetrator of the attack is a foreigner who is a member of Daesh (Islamic State).”
So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Eye witnesses told Turkish journalists that a suicide bomber set off an explosive device in the middle of the crowded square.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Tuesday evening confirmed there were German casualties. “According to current insights of the Turkish authorities, eight Germans are among the fatalities of this murderous attack,” he said in a statement to reporters.
Another nine Germans were injured, Mr. Steinmeier said. German television broadcaster NTV had already reported that several more injured Germans were brought to nearby hospitals, most of them senior citizens who were part of the tourist group.
Germany and Turkey are NATO members, and are participating to varying degrees in the fight against Islamic State in Syria.
“Today, Istanbul was affected. Earlier, it was Paris, Copenhagen, Tunis and many more.”
Among those injured were also a tourist from Norway and one from Peru, according to Turkish and Norwegian media.
Both Mr. Steinmeier and German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the attack and expressed their condolences to the victims and their families.
“Today, Istanbul was affected. Earlier, it was Paris, Copenhagen, Tunis and many more,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday night in a brief press statement. “International terrorism chooses different places for its attacks, but its target is always the same – our liberal way of life,” she added.
Mr. Steinmeier stressed the need to keep “fighting the cancerous growth” of terrorism. “For many years, terrorism hasn’t hit us Germans as hard as it did today in Istanbul,” he said.
It was not immediately clear whether Tuesday’s attack specifically targeted Germans – the biggest tourist group in Turkey – or was random. Mr. Steinmeier said a crisis committee with the foreign ministry was now working with Turkish authorities to investigate the question.
But media both in Germany and Turkey speculated that the attacker might have been an Islamic State fighter. Turkey has faced several terrorist attacks over the past few months, two of them committed by IS terrorists.
Initially, Turkey supported IS, which took over large chunks of Syria and Iraq in 2014, buying oil from the terror organization and allowing their fighters to be treated in Turkish hospitals. Turkish President Erdoğan later joined the Western alliance against IS.
For Turkish authorities, another option that had yet to be ruled out was that the attack was the work of Kurdish militants.
Mr. Erdoğan recently ended a fragile peace agreement with Turkey’s PKK party, which demands a sovereign Kurdish state. Clashes between Turkish forces and Kurdish fighters have been frequent since the pact was ended.
Several terror attacks in Turkey last year were committed by Kurdish extremists, though most targeted government buildings or authorities. In a warning on the German foreign ministry’s website, travelers in Istanbul were advised to avoid crowds, public places and tourist attractions.
Since the attack, the Sultanahmet square has been cordoned off, and authorities advised tourists to stay clear of similar public places.
Franziska Roscher is an editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition in Berlin. To contact the author: email@example.com