News has broken of a suicide bomb attack in the centre of Turkey’s second city, Istanbul, at 11 AM local time on Saturday 19th March. News agencies are reporting that at least 5 people have been killed and a further 36 wounded in the blast, which took place on Istiklal Street – one of the historical city’s most popular shopping and tourist destinations. The street runs through Istanbul’s Taksim district, between the Bosporus and the city centre. Police are said to have cordoned off the affected area, which is being attended by at least a dozen ambulances, according to Reuters.
This is the second suicide attack to have rocked Turkey this month, with 37 people having been killed in the capital Ankara last Sunday, the 13th. This attack was claimed by militant Kurdish group the TAK, but both Istanbul and Ankara have also witnessed attacks by terrorists claiming to be affiliated with ISIS. As such, Turkish officials are being cautious to apportion blame until more is known about today’s bombing. Previous attacks are thought to have made Turkey’s residents more cautious in recent months, which could explain why Istiklal Street was far less busy than usual today. However, given the area’s importance for foreign visitors to Istanbul, some are now expressing concerns about the impact such attacks might start to have on Turkey’s tourist industry, which is a vital source of income for many people. Three Israeli citizens are thought to have been injured by the Istiklal Street bombing, and Germany closed both its embassy and consulate in the country last week, both of which suggest that the increased instability is already having worrying repercussions.
the increased instability is already having worrying repercussions
Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, has already put out a statement to the effect that his government will continue its fight on terror. However, the attack is sure to have raised concerns among Turkey’s security services and politicians, particularly in the context of the country’s ongoing negotiations with NATO and the EU with regards to the large numbers of refugees and migrants trying to cross the country into Europe. The two sides recently agreed that anyone found attempting to enter EU states illegally, whether by land or sea, will be returned to Turkey by NATO forces, where the Turkish authorities will – in theory – take responsibility for them. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that over 2.5 million Syrian refugees have come to Turkey since the outbreak of civil war in their country five years ago.
Many of these people have settled in the South-East of the country, where the Turkish government is involved in an ongoing conflict with Kurdish rebels calling for self-governance. This has in turn complicated Turkey’s official position with regards to the Syrian crisis, as the government has proved reluctant to welcome the rise of Kurdish influence along its long and porous southern border. The intensification of Turkish security services’ actions against Kurdish groups could account for the rebels’ change in tactics over this past month; groups such as TAK and the PKK have previously focussed on attacking military and police targets, so to carry out bombings in civilian dominated areas represents a new strategy for them. ISIS, on the other hand, has a much longer record of bombing civilian targets, and attacked a tourist area in Istanbul in January this year.
What this attack means for Turkey’s ongoing anti-terror priorities will be much clearer when police and security services can determine who is responsible for it. For now, the city and country are in mourning for those lives lost, and anxious as to what is going to happen next. Given that this is the fourth attack on a Turkish city this year, there is a feeling that it will not be the last.