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Deadly suicide blast hits Istanbul tourist area; Officials claim Islamic State links

A Syrian suicide bomber believed linked to the Islamic State set off a powerful blast Tuesday in the heart of one of Istanbul's main tourist districts, officials said, killing at least 10 people and injuring 15 with reports citing Germans as among the main casualties.

The attack was a further sign of the country's deepening instability in a region wracked by war and the widening reach of groups such as the Islamic State. Turkey's prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, described the bomber as a member of the Islamic State, but gave no other immedate details.

The blast also struck directly at a hub of Istanbul's important tourism trade, reflecting similar tactics used by militants against popular internationally known sites in countries including Tunisia and Egypt.

Nine of those killed were Germans, the Associated Press reported, citing sources in the Turkish prime minister's office. An official list of the victims has not been released.

In addition, At least 15 people were injured in the explosion, including at least nine Germans and other foreigners, officials said.

Turkish officials also have blamed the Islamic State for recent bombings elsewhere in Turkey. Kurdish separatists and domestic left-wing groups have carried out other attacks in the country.

"I strongly condemn the terror incident that occurred in Istanbul . . . an attack by a Syria-rooted suicide bomber," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Earlier, Turkey's deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmu, told reporters that the attacker was identified as a 28-year-old Syrian.

The blast occurred just before 10:30 a.m. in the Sultanahmet district, an area that includes the famed Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia complex, a former Byzantine-era basilica.

The vast plazas and surrounding streets are normally packed with merchants, vendors and visitors. The blast was centered near a local tram station close to the Obelisk of Theodosius, an ancient Egyptian monolith brought to Istanbul — then known as Constantinople — in the 4th century.

A live feed from the blast site aired by Turkey's Dogan News Agency showed paramedics loading the wounded onto ambulances. The government later announced a ban on media coverage of the attack.

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at least nine Germans were injured in the blast. The Dogan agency also reported that Norwegians and a Peruvian were among those hurt.

"Today Istanbul was hit. Paris has been hit. Tunisia has been hit. Ankara has been hit before," Merkel said in Berlin. "International terrorism is once again showing its cruel and inhuman face today."

The attack in Istanbul comes as Turkey is grappling with instability from the five-year-old civil war in neighboring Syria. Turkish forces have not directly intervened in the Syrian conflict but have been under Western pressure to crack down on the cross-border flow of people and supplies to Islamic State strongholds in Turkey.

Turkey is also a main backer of rebel groups opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and it has recently stepped up its decades-old fight against Kurdish separatists. Other Turkish political cells have staged their own attacks.

A year ago, a Chechen woman believed linked to militant factions blew herself up outside a police post in Sultanahmet in a suicide attack. One police officer also was killed.

There were two major suicide bomb attacks on peace activists in the country's southeast last year, killing more than 100 people. The government blamed the Islamic State for those explosions, but the militant group never asserted responsibility.

Just before New Year's, Turkish officials said they foiled a plot to launch a wave of attacks over the holiday.

Turkey last summer opened its Incirlik air base to U.S. warplanes carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Syria.

[Source: By Erin Cunningham and Brian Murphy, The Washington Post, Baghdad, 12Jan16]

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small logoThis document has been published on 11Jan16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.