Monday 26 September 2016

Isil blamed after Istanbul suicide bombing leaves 10 tourists dead

Zia Weise in Istanbul and Raf Sanchez

Published 13/01/2016 | 02:30

Police officers secure an area at the historic Sultanahmet district, which is popular with tourists, after the suicide bombing in Istanbul. AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis
Police officers secure an area at the historic Sultanahmet district, which is popular with tourists, after the suicide bombing in Istanbul. AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis
Turkey’s President Erdogan. REUTERS/Kayhan Ozer

A member of Isil is believed to be behind yesterday's suicide bombing in the heart of Istanbul that killed nine German tourists and brought terror to the streets of the Turkish city.

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The blast tore through a crowd near the Blue Mosque, in the Sultanahmet district, an area popular with visitors.

Officials said the attack was carried out by a 28-year-old Syrian member of Isil.

"We have determined that the perpetrator of the attack is a foreigner who is a member of Daesh," said Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's prime minister, using the Arabic name for Isil.

The bomber is believed to have entered Turkey from Syria but was not on a watch list of suspected militants.

Unconfirmed reports said he may have been born in Saudi Arabia.

Isil did not claim responsibility for the bombing but is said to have been behind two other major terror attacks in Turkey in the past six months.

The blast also killed a Peruvian man and wounded another 15 people, including nine Germans and two Peruvians, according to Turkish media.

News of the bombing was met with horror in Germany and Mr Davutoglu called Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, to offer his condolences.

"International terrorism is once again showing its cruel and inhuman face today," Mrs Merkel said.

"Today it hit Istanbul, it has hit Paris, it hit Tunisia, it had already hit Ankara."

Germany also warned its citizens after the attack to avoid tourist sites in the city. Questions were asked as to whether the group was deliberately targeted for their country's liberal policy on accepting Syrian refugees.

Istanbul is one of the world's most-visited cities and tourism accounts for around 12pc of Turkey's GDP, raising fears the attack could bring serious economic repercussions.

Assembly

The suicide bomber struck at around 10.20am near the Obelisk of Theodosius, an ancient Egyptian monument often used as an assembly point for tour groups.

Ugur Kupeli, a 58-year-old tour guide, said he ran towards the scene of the blast but stopped when he saw a severed arm lying at the edge of Sultanahmet Square.

"It had the sleeve of a red dress," he said. The area was flooded with police and Turkey's government, which is often accused of authoritarianism, declared a ban on broadcast coverage from the scene of the attack.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, hit out at critics of his government's aggressive tactics, including the American intellectual Noam Chomsky.

"Pick a side," Mr Erdogan said. "You are either on the side of the Turkish government, or you're on the side of the terrorists."

Turkey says Isil was behind a bombing at a left-wing peace rally in Ankara in October, which killed 102 people and wounded hundreds.

The jihadist group is also blamed for another attack in the southern city of Suruc in July that left 33 people dead. Many victims were students planning to cross into Syria to help rebuild the war-ravaged border town of Kobane.

Behlul Ozkan, a professor at Istanbul's Marmara University, said the latest atrocity was "completely different" and appeared to be designed to damage Turkey by scaring foreign tourists.

"The target is the Turkish economy. They're doing it not just to kill foreign tourists but to show the world that Turkey is vulnerable," he said.

More than 12 million people visited Istanbul last year, making it the fifth most-visited city in the world, according to a survey by Mastercard.

Irish Independent

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