A deadly explosion at Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square claimed the lives of ten civilians and wounded fifteen others. Casualties included local citizens as well as visitors from Norway and Germany. The site, which is located in a central section of Istanbul, is a popular destination for tourists due to its concentration of ancient and modern Turkish historic landmarks.
Istanbul officials closed the area to local traffic to enable investigations into the explosion. While there is still no official word regarding the provenance of the attacks, speculation about the identity of the organizers of this latest incident point to groups who have been active in Turkey in the recent past. According to The Telegraph, during a late morning press conference, Turkish president Recep Tyyish Erdogan stated his belief that the explosion was carried out by a Syrian suicide bomber whose name has not been released and has only been identified as a male born in 1988.
In the wake of the attack, The Turkish Radio and Television Supreme Council placed a ban on images of the aftermath of the explosion. Oral reports and written accounts were the only coverage allowed in the hours that followed, according to the The Telegraph.
Ece Toksabay, a Reuters correspondent in Ankara cited two Turkish officials who stated that the explosion in Istanbul was most likely the work of a militant group. This speculation is not with historic precedent. In October of 2015, PKK, a Kurdish militant group, were implicated in an attack on a peace rally that ended with 100 dead and 240 people injured. Islamic State has also been an active cause for concern. According to Fadi Hakura, an associate fellow at Chatham House, an international affairs think tank in London, “The Islamic State has been unhappy with Turkey’s cooperation with the United States.”
In the minds of many, the location of the attack, as well as the targeted population and timing point to ISIL as the responsible party. Sultanahmet Square is the location of a number of sites that are of interest to international visitors to Istanbul. The famous Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome of Constantinople, and the Hagia Sophia are among the points of interest that attract visitors from all over the world. A report from Reuters places the explosion near an Istanbul city tram and the Dikilitas Obelisk of Theodosius at a time when groups of tourists were likely to be walking around.
If ISIL is behind the latest attack, it will not be the first time the group’s activities have been linked to locations of historic importance. In August of last year, members of ISIL murdered Khaled al-Asaad, a preeminent archaeologist and scholar, at Palmyra, and ancient city dating back to the neolithic period, that was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. The destruction of many of the features at Palmyra were determined to be both political and strategic in nature. Reports suggest that many of the smaller artifacts were already sent to other locations to keep them safe from being looted from museums and labs and sold. The bigger, more political statement made by the destruction of archaeological features suggests that such monuments will not be tolerated by ISIL.
The identities of the victims have not been released by the Istanbul police, but various sources have stated many of the casualties were from Germany.
“International terrorism has shown its ugly face,” said German chancellor Andrea Merkel. “We need to act decisively against it.”
Meanwhile, expressions of outrage at the violence and support for Turkey and the countries whose citizens were caught in the explosion have come from across the European Union and officials from international organizations.
Additional reports cite six German nationals among the injured and at least one Norwegian, one South Korean, and one Peruvian tourist among the casualties of the morning explosion in Istanbul.
[Photo by Lefteris Pitarakis/AP Images]