Monday 20 November 2017

Irish family injured in Istanbul suicide bomb attack return home

Five dead, 36 injured, as suicide bomber strikes on busy street

Police forensic experts inspect the area after a suicide bombing in a major shopping and tourist district in central Istanbul, Turkey REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir
Police forensic experts inspect the area after a suicide bombing in a major shopping and tourist district in central Istanbul, Turkey REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir
A woman reacts following a suicide bombing in a major shopping and tourist district in central Istanbul March 19, 2016
A woman sits inside an ambulance following a suicide bombing in a major shopping and tourist district in central Istanbul March 19, 2016
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
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
HORROR: The scene after a suicide bombing in central Istanbul. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Jerome Reilly and Claire Mc Cormack

Two Irish people were wounded when a lone suicide bomber struck the busiest shopping area in central Istanbul yesterday.

Five people were killed, including the bomber, and 36 others injured in the attack at Istiklal Avenue in Taksim, Istanbul's main shopping area and a magnet for tourists and foreign visitors.

An Irish Algerian family of five living in Britain were caught in the bomb blast.

The mother and father sustained minor injuries while their three children were uninjured. The family took a flight home to Britain after being discharged from the hospital.

Shocking video footage later emerged, showing the exact moment the bomb blast brought terror and death to the long pedestrian street lined with busy shops.

Meanwhile, Turkey has identified the suicide bomber behind the attack as a member of Islamic State born in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep.

 "We have determined that Mehmet Ozturk, born in 1992 in Gaziantep, has carried out the heinous attack on Saturday in Istanbul. It has been established that he is a member of Daesh," Interior Minister Efkan Ala told a news confernce broadcast live on television.

"We have determined that Mehmet Ozturk, born in 1992 in Gaziantep, has carried out the heinous attack on Saturday in Istanbul. It has been established that he is a member of Daesh," Ala told a news confernce broadcast live on television.

The footage shows pedestrians, including a man who appears to be carrying an infant child in his arms and women with shopping bags, casually walking past shops just seconds before the cache of explosives is detonated with devastating force.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan TD expressed his "horror and sadness" at the deadly attack.

This was the fourth suicide bomb attack in Turkey since January and came just six days after a suicide car bomb attack in the heart of the capital city of Ankara killed 37 people.

"I am deeply saddened by today's horrific bomb attack in central Istanbul," the minister said. "I have spoken to Ambassador Brendan Ward in Turkey and can confirm that we are aware of a number of Irish citizens among the injured.

"An embassy official is on the ground in Istanbul to provide consular assistance."

Last June, in the Tunisian resort of Sousse, 38 people were murdered when a terrorist opened fire on a tourist beach.

The dead included three Irish citizens - married couple Larry and Martina Hynes from Athlone and mother-of-two Lorna Carty, from Robinstown, Co Meath.

Yesterday, Irish citizens were once again caught up in the onslaught of terrorism sweeping Europe.

The area where the attack happened is not far from a heavily secured area that is usually filled with police vehicles. The area around Taksim Square is also home to a number of foreign consulates and international brands.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has issued a strong travel advisory to Irish citizens visiting Turkey to exercise caution.

"If you're planning a trip to Turkey, we advise you to exercise caution. The threat from terrorism in Turkey remains high," the department warned .

"While areas popular with Irish travellers are located at a substantial distance from these regions, vigilance is required in tourist areas, such as Taksim Square in Istanbul, and locations close to police stations, which may be targets for terrorist attacks," the warning states.

Significantly, Germany, kept its embassy in Ankara, its consulate in Istanbul and schools closed on March 17 and March 18, a move based on intelligence of a terror attack threat.

Skin, the lead singer of the British post-punk band Skunk Anansie, was among the witnesses of the attack. "Massive bomb blast outside our hotel, I'm okay, very shaken, people dead, awful scenes," the singer wrote on her Twitter account.

Two Turkish officials told Reuters that evidence suggested the attacker was likely from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) or the Islamic State militant group.

Turkey, which is a Nato member, faces security threats from the PKK in the mainly Kurdish southeast and has also been a target for Islamist militants.

One of the Turkish officials said the suicide bomber had planned to hit a more crowded spot.

"The attacker detonated the bomb before reaching the targeted point because they were scared of the police," the official said.

Armed police sealed off the shopping street where half-a-dozen ambulances had gathered. Forensic teams in white suits scoured the area for evidence.

Police helicopters buzzed overhead and panicked shoppers fled the area, ducking down narrow sidestreets.

A suicide car bombing in the capital, Ankara, killed 37 people earlier this month. A similar bombing in Ankara last month killed 29 people.

A Kurdish militant group claimed responsibility for both of those bombings.

In January, a suicide bomber killed around 10 people, most of them German tourists, in Istanbul's historic heart, an attack that the government blamed on Islamic State.

A Dublin student living in Istanbul, just minutes away from the city centre blast, said the area is similar to Grafton Street but with a lot more "people traffic". "It's busy all day and all night. Everyone goes down there" she said.

Sunday Independent

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