Six people have been killed and 81 others wounded as an explosion rocked a busy pedestrian street in central Istanbul, in an incident that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called a bomb attack that “smells like terrorism”.
On Sunday, ambulances raced to the scene on the packed Istiklal avenue, which police had quickly cordoned off. The area, in the Beyoglu district of Turkey’s largest city, had been crowded as usual at the weekend with shoppers, tourists and families.
Speaking before his departure to the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Indonesia on Sunday, Erdogan said the explosion appeared to be a “heinous attack” and pledged that its perpetrators would be punished.
“Our people can rest assured that the culprits behind the attack will be punished as they deserve,” he said at a press conference, adding that initial information suggested “a woman played a part” in it.
“It would be wrong to say this is undoubtedly a terrorist attack, but the initial developments and initial intelligence from my governor is that it smells like terrorism,” Erdogan said.
Four people died at the scene and two died in the hospital, Erdogan said.
Vice President Fuat Oktay later updated the wounded toll to 81, with two in serious condition, and also said it appeared to be a “terrorist attack”.
Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya earlier said the explosion occurred at about 4:20pm (13:20 GMT) on Sunday.
A video posted online showed flames erupting and a loud bang, as pedestrians turned and ran away.
istiklal caddesi'ndeki patlama anı pic.twitter.com/3fM5KRQLWW
— fırat (@firatfstk) November 13, 2022
“My condolences to those who lost their lives in the explosion on Istiklal avenue,” Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu said on Twitter.
Nobody has claimed responsibility for the blast. Turkey was hit by a string of deadly bombings between 2015 and 2017 by ISIL (ISIS) and by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istiklal avenue, said three suspects were reportedly involved in the explosion.
Erdogan “mentioned that the main suspect [in the incident] is a female,” Koseoglu said, adding that officials believe that she is a PKK member.
Koseoglu said that she reportedly dropped a bag of explosives in the middle of the street packed with civilians and that it detonated a few minutes after she left.
“I learned from my sources that the other two suspects are two very young men who were born after 2000,” she also said.
Koseoglu added there was no information on the identities of the perpetrators yet.
Koseoglu said the explosion comes as a shock because there have not been any recent warnings over attacks in the city.
“But security measures have remained high in the area,” she said.
Murat Aslan, a security analyst, told Al Jazeera that the place where the blast occurred is a very crowded area with high security in place.
“The police in general is on the highest level in this area,” he said.
“There are a lot of security cameras in the area,” Aslan added. “I think the police will identify exactly who did this and how he or she did this if it is a terror attack.”