Bomb attack on police kills 11 in Istanbul

by OZAN Kose with Fulya OZERKAN in Ankara A car bomb ripped through a police bus near Istanbul's historic centre Tuesday, killing seven officers and four civilians in the latest attack in Turkey's biggest city.

The blast targeted a shuttle service carrying anti-riot police as it passed through Beyazit district, close to many of the city’s top tourist sites, Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin said on Turkish television.

Thirty-six people were wounded, three of them seriously, he added.

There was no early claim of responsibility, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was behind the attack.

For the PKK to target major cities such as Istanbul “is nothing new,” he said after visiting the injured at an Istanbul hospital.

“We will fight against terrorists relentlessly to the end.”

In a statement from his office later, Erdogan also vowed the culprits would “pay in kind the price for the bloodshed.”

Kurdish militants have repeatedly targeted Turkey’s security forces, but Islamic State (IS) jihadists have also staged several attacks in Turkish cities in the past year.

Reports said the explosion took place close to Vezneciler metro station, within walking distance of some of the city’s main tourist sites including the famed Suleymaniye Mosque.

The metro station was closed as a security precaution.

The blast reduced the police vehicle to mangled wreckage and windows in nearby shops were shattered. Reports said that shots were heard afterwards.

The attack occurred opposite an upscale hotel favoured by foreign tourists, the Celal Aga Konagi Hotel, a converted Ottoman mansion.

The 16th-century Sehzade Mosque — considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan — was also damaged by the force of the explosion.

Television footage showed its windows blown out and debris littering the floor.

Loudspeakers on mosques warned people to vacate the area, after which a controlled explosion was carried out on a suspect vehicle.

– ‘Shoulder-to-shoulder with Turkey’ –

French President Francois Hollande condemned the attack as “intolerable act of violence” that should strengthen common resolve to fight terrorism.

US Ambassador to Ankara John Bass said in a Twitter message: “Such senseless violence could never be rationalised by any cause.”

The United States will “continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Turkey in the fight against terrorism,” Bass said. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also reaffirmed support.

Tuesday’s bombing, which occurred on the second day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, is the latest in a string of attacks that have rattled citizens and damaged tourism.

Two blasts in Ankara claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) — a radical splinter group of the better-known PKK — earlier this year claimed dozens of lives.

Last month, at least eight people including soldiers were wounded by a remotely-detonated car bomb targeting a military vehicle in Istanbul that was claimed by the PKK.

Turkey has stepped up its military campaign against PKK militants in the southeast of the country and in neighbouring Iraq.

Turkish warplanes dropped bombs on PKK targets in northern Iraq Monday night, Turkish media reported.

On January 12, a dozen German tourists were killed in a bombing in the heart of Istanbul’s tourist district blamed on Islamic State.

Two months later, three Israelis and an Iranian were killed in a bombing on Istanbul’s main Istiklal shopping street which was also blamed on IS.

Turkey, a member of NATO and the US-led anti-jihadist coalition, has responded defiantly to the attacks, vowing to overcome both the PKK and Islamic State.

The Kurdish militants have in turn threatened more attacks.

– Tourism industry hit –

The violence has had a devastating effect on the tourism industry, with the latest attack coming at the worst possible time, at the outset of the key summer season.

Some 1.75 million foreigners came to Turkey in April, down more than 28 percent on April 2015, the tourism ministry said in its latest release.

The fall was the steepest monthly decrease for 17 years and raised fresh concerns about the health of the industry.

Britain has urged its citizens to avoid all but essential travel to Turkey’s southeast and to remain vigilant in crowded places popular with tourists.

The US embassy in Turkey in April warned of “credible threats” to tourist areas in Istanbul and the resort city of Antalya, especially in public squares and docks.


© 1994-2016 Agence France-Presse


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