An explosion in the heart of Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet tourist district killed at least 10 people and wounded 15 on Tuesday and some local media reports said a suicide bomber may have been responsible.
Several bodies lay on the ground in the Sultanahmet square, close to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, a major tourist area of Turkey’s most populous city. A police officer and witness at the scene reported also seeing several bodies and body parts.
Ambulances rushed to the scene, ferrying away the wounded as police cordoned off streets. “We’re taking precautions against a second explosion,” the police officer said, ushering people out of the square.
The Istanbul governor’s office said the authorities were investigating the type of explosive used and who might have been responsible for the attack. It said 10 people were killed and 15 wounded but gave no further details. Turkey’s A Haber television said the blast may have been caused by a suicide bomber, but this was not independently confirmed.
Foreign tourists from Germany and Norway were among those wounded, Turkey’s CNN Turk television said.
An official from one tour company who declined to be identified told Reuters that a tourist group from Germany was in the area at the time of the blast, but it was unclear whether any of them had been hurt. “The explosion was very loud. Everything was shaking we were so scared. We ran out and saw body parts,” the official said.
Melbourne businesswoman Mikala James and her father were in the streets of Istanbul, en route to Sultanahmet Square, when the bomb went off. “We heard the explosion and then there was a chill in the air,” Ms. James said. “Dad said to me it sounded like a building demolition but I’d never heard a sound like that before.”
Ms. James said they were on their way to a meeting at the Sultanahmet Square district, which is often crowded with locals and tourists visiting monuments.
Her father, Brian, said it was sheer luck that they stopped at a cafe and were running behind schedule. “We thank our lucky stars, otherwise we would have been right in the middle of it,” he said. “It’s a beautiful, friendly city with magnificent people, but everyone is on edge this morning.”
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu held an emergency meeting in Ankara with the interior minister and security chiefs. A senior official said “terrorist links” were suspected in the attack but declined to comment further.
Just over a year ago, a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a police station for tourists off the same square, killing one officer and wounding another. That attack was initially claimed by a far-left group, but officials later said it had been perpetrated by a woman with suspected Islamist militant links.
Turkey has become a target for Islamic State, with two bombings last year blamed on the radical Sunni Muslim group, in the town of Suruc near the Syrian border and in the capital Ankara, the latter killing more than 100 people.
“Ambulances started rushing in and I knew it was a bomb right away because the same thing happened here last year,” said Ali Ibrahim Peltek, 40, who operates a kiosk selling snacks and drinks on the square. “This is not good for Turkey but everyone was expecting a terrorist attack,” he said.
Violence has also escalated in the mainly Kurdish southeast since a two-year ceasefire collapsed in July between the state and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, which has been fighting for three decades for Kurdish autonomy.
However, the PKK has generally avoided attacking civilian targets in urban centres outside the southeast in recent years.
Mr. Davutoglu’s office imposed a broadcasting ban on the blast, invoking a law which allows for such steps when there is the potential for serious harm to national security or public order.