Turkish police arrest 46 people over Istanbul explosion
Interior minister blames blast on Kurdish fighters, says those detained include ‘the person who left the bomb’ on Istiklal Avenue.
Turkish police have arrested 46 people over the explosion in central Istanbul that left at least six people dead and 81 others wounded, Istanbul police have said.
Interior minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters on Monday that the suspects included the “person who left the bomb that caused the explosion” on the busy Istiklal Avenue in Turkey’s largest city.
Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istanbul, said a three-year-old girl and her father were among those killed.
#URGENT Person who left bomb that caused explosion Sunday on Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue arrested by police, says Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu pic.twitter.com/I08OTC4rPb
— ANADOLU AGENCY (@anadoluagency) November 14, 2022
Soylu blamed the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for Sunday’s blast, in the popular shopping and tourism spot, saying: “Our assessment is that the order for the deadly terror attack came from Ain al-Arab [Kobane] in northern Syria,” where he said the group has its Syrian headquarters.
“We will retaliate against those who are responsible for this heinous terror attack,” he said, adding that 81 people had been wounded, two of them in critical condition.
Turkish authorities are not ruling out ISIL (ISIS) ties, a senior Turkish official said Monday.
The PKK has issued a statement in which it denied involvement in the attack, and expressed its condolences.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday described the explosion as “treacherous” and said it “smells like terrorism”.
Justice minister Bekir Bozdag told A Haber television later on Sunday that a woman was seen sitting on one of the benches on Istiklal Avenue for more than 40 minutes.
The explosion occurred just minutes after she got up, he said.
“There are two possibilities,” he told A Haber. “There’s either a mechanism placed in this bag and it explodes, or someone remotely explodes [it]”.
Al Jazeera has obtained pictures of the woman suspected to be behind the bombing.
#الجزيرة تحصل على صور من زوايا مختلفة للسيدة المشتبه في أنها تقف وراء هجوم #اسطنبول pic.twitter.com/DgdojrKMMY
— قناة الجزيرة (@AJArabic) November 13, 2022
In initial questioning, the woman said she was trained by Kurdish militants in Syria and entered Turkey through northwest Syria’s Afrin region, the police said.
Television news reports also showed images of a person, who appeared to be a woman, leaving a package below a raised flower bed on Istiklal, which has a tramline running the length of the street.
Al Jazeera’s Koseoglu said two more Syrian nationals were involved in the attack, according to security sources.
“The interior minister mentioned that these perpetrators are linked to the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish fighter group, which Turkey considers as an offshoot of the outlawed PKK,” Koseoglu said.
“We’re waiting for officials to give more details about the suspects… [including] how they crossed the Turkish-Syrian border as Turkey has been very strict about Syrians who are staying in big cities without residential permits or without being registered.”
She added that the woman seems to be in her late twenties or early thirties and “was captured by the police in the place where she was staying” at 2:50am.
According to Istanbul police, 1,200 security cameras have been checked near the site of the explosion. Police have conducted raids at 21 different addresses the female suspect has been identified to have links with.
Istanbul and other Turkish cities have been targeted in the past by Kurdish separatists, ISIL (ISIS), and other groups, including in a series of attacks in 2015 and 2016.
These include twin bombings outside an Istanbul football stadium in December 2016 that killed 38 people and wounded 155. The attack was claimed by an offshoot of the PKK, which has kept up a campaign for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey since the 1980s and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.
Regularly targeted by Turkish military operations, the PKK is also at the heart of a tussle between Sweden and Turkey, which has been blocking Stockholm’s entry into NATO since May, accusing it of leniency towards the Kurdish group.
Condemnations of Sunday’s attack and condolences for the victims rolled in from several countries, including Azerbaijan, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Pakistan, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the US.
Greece “unequivocally” denounced the blast and expressed condolences, while the US said it stood “shoulder-to-shoulder with our NATO ally in countering terrorism”.
French President Emmanuel Macron said in a message to the Turkish people: “We share your pain. We stand with you in the fight against terrorism”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also tweeted in Turkish: “The pain of the friendly Turkish people is our pain.”
European Council President Charles Michel also sent condolences, tweeting: “My thoughts are with the victims and their families.”