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ISTANBUL: At least six people were killed and 53 injured in an explosion on Sunday in a popular tourist area of Istanbul.
Videos posted on social media showed bodies lying on the ground in the city’s busy Istiklal Street following the blast at around 4:20 p.m. local time.
Confirming casualty numbers, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the explosion as an “attack,” prompting Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to condemn the incident.
The usually bustling pedestrian shopping street is a hotspot for tourists.
Speaking prior to leaving for the G20 summit in Bali, Erdogan said: “Our nation should ensure that the perpetrators of the incident on Istiklal Street will be punished as they deserve.”
Although not immediately confirmed as a terror attack, the Turkish leader added there was “a smell of it” and hinted that a woman may have been involved in causing the explosion.
CCTV footage showed a woman leaving a bag on a bench on Istiklal Street and Turkish media reported witnesses hearing gunshots in streets around nearby Taksim Square.
Turkish anti-terror and crime scene investigation teams were quickly on the scene and cordoned off the area.
Turkiye’s media watchdog has imposed a broadcasting ban in the vicinity of the blast after fake footage was posted on social media platforms. Restrictions were also applied to Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.
The explosion took place near a mosque and 300 meters away from the French consulate.
Other foreign consulates are also located on Istiklal Street which has been the scene of several terror attacks. Sunday’s blast was the deadliest since December 2016.
Al-Qaeda, Daesh, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have all claimed responsibility for recent terror attacks in Turkiye. Al-Qaeda in Turkiye carried out two separate suicide bombings in the same district in November 2003, killing more than 60 people and injuring at least 650, and one week before that attacked two synagogues.
In 2016, a Daesh member targeted an Israeli tourist group, leaving five people dead and 36 wounded.
And In December 2016, bomb attacks outside a busy stadium in Istanbul killed 38 and wounded 166.
As yet, no group has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s blast.
During a speech in Turkiye’s Bilecik province on Saturday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said that the number of terrorists operating inside Turkish territories was now down to below 120.
Turkish anti-terror teams have been conducting operations throughout the country in recent months against PKK and Daesh operatives.
While the PKK has been conducting a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state for almost four decades, the country has also been the target of Daesh, with more than 300 people killed and hundreds injured in suicide bombings, bomb attacks, and armed assaults.