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Turkey makes arrest after Istanbul bombing kills 6, injures dozens

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu says suspect who planted bomb in custody; investigators focus on woman who sat near scene for 40 minutes before blast

Security and ambulances at the scene after an explosion on Istanbul's popular pedestrian Istiklal Avenue, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. (AP /Francisco Seco)
Security and ambulances at the scene after an explosion on Istanbul's popular pedestrian Istiklal Avenue, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. (AP /Francisco Seco)

ISTANBUL — The person who planted the bomb on Istanbul’s Istiklal Street that killed at least six people and wounded dozens has been arrested, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency on Monday, pointing a finger at the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his vice president, Fuat Oktay, had earlier said that “a woman” was responsible for the attack but it was not immediately clear if the female suspect was the one arrested.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told pro-government broadcaster A Haber earlier that investigators were focusing on a woman who sat on a bench by the scene of the blast for about 40 minutes. The explosion took place just minutes after she left.

Erdogan called the blast a “treacherous attack” and vowed that its perpetrators would be punished. Oktay put the wounded toll to 81, with two in serious condition.

In additional comments to Anadolu, Soylu accused the PKK of being behind the attack. “According to our findings, the PKK terrorist organization is responsible,” Soylu said.

The bomb ripped through the bustling pedestrian avenue in the heart of Istanbul on Sunday, killing six people, wounding several dozen and leaving panicked people to flee the fiery blast or huddle in cafes and shops.

Emergency vehicles rushed to the scene on Istiklal Avenue, a popular thoroughfare lined with shops and restaurants that leads to the iconic Taksim Square. In one video posted online, a loud bang could be heard and a flash seen as pedestrians turned and ran away.

Sunday’s explosion was a shocking reminder of the anxiety and safety concerns that stalked the Turkish population during years when such attacks were common. The country was hit by a string of deadly bombings between 2015 and 2017, some by the Islamic State group, others by Kurdish militants who seek increased autonomy or independence.

In recent years, Erdogan has led a broad crackdown on the militants as well as on Kurdish lawmakers and activists. Amid skyrocketing inflation and other economic troubles, Erdogan’s anti-terrorism campaign is a key rallying point for him ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections next year.

Numerous foreign governments offered their condolences, including neighboring Greece with which relations are tense. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he was “shocked and saddened by the news of the heinous attack.”

The United States also denounced the attack, with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying: “We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our NATO Ally Turkey in countering terrorism.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a message to the Turks: “We share your pain. We stand with you in the fight against terrorism”.

“Shaken by news of the despicable bombing in Istanbul targeting innocent civilians,” Israeli President Isaac Herzog tweeted in Turkish and English saying: “The whole world must stand united and firm against terror.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted also in Turkish: “The pain of the friendly Turkish people is our pain.”

Forensic experts collect a dead body after an explosion on Istanbul’s popular pedestrian Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. (Ismail Coskun/IHA via AP)

EU Council President Charles Michel offered condolences to Turkey, tweeting: “My thoughts are with the victims & their families.”

Following the attacks in Turkey between 2015 and 2017 that left more than 500 civilians and security personnel dead, Turkey launched cross-border military operations into Syria and northern Iraq against Kurdish militants, while also cracking down on Kurdish politicians, journalists and activists at home.

While the Kurdish militants, known as the PKK, are considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, critics say Erdogan has also used broad terror laws to stifle free speech.

Most recently, Turkey enacted a controversial “ disinformation law ” that carries a prison sentence of up to three years for social media users who disseminate false information about domestic or international security, public order or health. Critics have said the wording of the article is so vague, it can be used to stamp out dissent.

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