Suicide bomber targets police, injures 32 in the heart of İstanbul

November 01, 2010, Monday/ 16:57:00
A suspected suicide bomber injured 32 people in İstanbul's central Taksim Square early Sunday. Among the 32 injured, 15 were police officers and 17 were civilians and the attacker appeared to be male, İstanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu said yesterday.

The bomber was killed in the explosion. Two policemen, Halil Keskinbıçak and Muzaffer Aslan, and three civilians were said to be in critical condition. İstanbul Police Chief Hüseyin Çapkın said the blast targeted the police but it was unclear who was behind the attack. The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as well as other groups have all set off bombs in İstanbul in the past. Observers have noted that yesterday was the last day of a unilateral cease-fire announced by the PKK. A taxi driver told the CNN Turk news channel he saw a 30 to 33-year-old man approach the police to ask directions, at which point the bomb detonated. However, another witness said two men had approached the police. CNN Turk also said a second bomb had been found close to the dead bomber, but the state-run Anatolia news agency said parts of a bomb were found and it was unclear if it was part of the bomb that had exploded or a second device.

Interior Minister Beşir Atalay confirmed that the attack was a suicide bombing in televised remarks yesterday. “We should not make hasty comments as to who carried out the attack,” he said. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack thus far.

“This attack appears to have the signature of the PKK. Suicide bombers are a technique al-Qaeda also uses but in Turkey they have typically used vehicles,” a senior security officer in western Turkey told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Televised footage showed security forces directing emergency services towards the scene of the blast. A bomb disposal unit was also at the scene in case a second explosive device was discovered, Turkish media said. Taksim Square was sealed off and journalists and news crews were not allowed past police lines.

A suspected suicide bomber wounded 32 people in the center of Turkey’s biggest city on Sunday in an attack targeting police. Fifteen of those injured were police officers and 17 civilians. The bomber was killed in the explosion.

The square is a major tourist attraction and transport hub, surrounded by restaurants, shops and hotels, and is in the heart of İstanbul. It houses the Republic Monument, which was built in 1928 to commemorate the creation of the Turkish Republic. The fact that the attack was carried out early in the day, around 10:40 a.m., is thought to have prevented fatalities and more injuries.

Yesterday's attack was the third suicide bombing attack staged in Taksim in the past 11 years targeting the police. In 1999, such an attack injured 10 police officers and in 2001 a suicide bomber killed two policemen and injured 20 others.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was on a trip to the southeastern province of Mardin, vehemently condemned the attack yesterday. Expressing his best wishes to the injured, Erdoğan vowed to continue to stand against terrorism. “I would like to reiterate that those who threaten Turkey's peace, security and development will not be tolerated. These kinds of attacks will not stop Turkey from reaching its goals of peace, brotherhood and development. We are together; we are brothers,” he said.

President Abdullah Gül, who called İstanbul Governor Mutlu to learn the details of the attack, also made a statement yesterday. “I condemn this attack vehemently. Our sole source of consolation is that there were no fatalities. All segments of society, without any exception, should take a strong position against terrorism in the face of this vicious attack,” Gül said.

The police launched a comprehensive operation after the attack to capture those who are linked to the attack. Counterterrorism, intelligence and special operation units from the İstanbul Police Department were mobilized to search for a suspect who is believed to have links to the attack and was reportedly on the scene. Many houses in the Gaziosmanpaşa, Maltepe and Ümraniye districts were raided as part of the operation. İstanbul police detained 16 individuals from the far-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C). It was not clear whether the detainees were linked to yesterday's explosion.

Republic Day celebrations overshadowed by attack

Celebrations to mark the 87th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic on Oct. 29, 1923, which were delayed until yesterday due to adverse weather conditions on Friday, were also marred by the Taksim blast. İstanbul Governor Mutlu was informed about the attack during a ceremony on Vatan Street. Security measures during the celebrations were immediately heightened following the attack. The number of police was increased and helicopters were also sent to the area. The celebrations ended without incident.

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