Turkey arrested Istanbul bomb attacker, minister says

Six people were killed and 81 others wounded on Sunday when an explosion rocked a busy pedestrian street in Istiklal Avenue in central Istanbul.

 Ambulances arrive near the scene following an explosion in central Istanbul's Taksim area, Turkey November 13, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/KEMAL ASLAN)
Ambulances arrive near the scene following an explosion in central Istanbul's Taksim area, Turkey November 13, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/KEMAL ASLAN)

Turkey arrested a suspect who authorities believe placed the bomb that killed six people in Istanbul on Sunday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said early Monday morning according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Six people were killed and 81 others wounded when an explosion ripped through the busy Istiklal Avenue pedestrian street in central Istanbul in what Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called a bomb attack that "smells like terrorism." Turkey's Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu blamed Kurdish militants for the blast. It was announced that 46 people have been arrested, including the bomber, who was identified as a Syrian national.

Soylu said the order for the attack on Istanbul's Istiklal Avenue was given in Kobani, a city in northern Syria, where Turkish forces have carried out operations against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in recent years.

"We have evaluated that the instruction for the attack came from Kobani," Soylu said, adding that bomber had passed through Afrin, another region in northern Syria.

 An undated handout picture released by Turkish police shows an unidentified blast suspect arrested in Istanbul, Turkey.  (credit: Turkish Police/Handout via REUTERS) An undated handout picture released by Turkish police shows an unidentified blast suspect arrested in Istanbul, Turkey. (credit: Turkish Police/Handout via REUTERS)

Istanbul has been targeted in the past by Kurdish, Islamist and leftist militants. An offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) claimed twin bombings outside an Istanbul soccer stadium in December 2016 that killed 38 people and wounded 155.

The PKK has led an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in clashes. The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

However, the PKK released a statement Monday denying any involvement in the Istanbul explosion.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay stated on Sunday evening that 12 of the injured were in serious condition, adding that the incident was being treated as a terrorist attack and that it was believed that a female suspect detonated the explosive.

Israel was initially checking whether any Israelis were injured in the blast, a possibility ruled out by Monday morning. Istanbul is a popular tourist spot for Israelis.

"Efforts to take over Turkey and the Turkish nation through terrorism will not yield results," said Erdogan at a press conference.

The Anadolu news agency said the cause of the blast was not yet known, although surveillance footage reportedly from the scene appeared to show a backpack left on the street that was the source of the explosion.

 People react after an explosion on busy pedestrian Istiklal street in Istanbul, Turkey, November 13, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/KEMAL ASLAN) People react after an explosion on busy pedestrian Istiklal street in Istanbul, Turkey, November 13, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/KEMAL ASLAN)

"We wish God's mercy on those who lost their lives and a speedy recovery to the injured," said the governor of Istanbul, Ali Yerlikaya.

Turkish state media RTUK reported that a gag order had been placed on the explosion. A terrorism investigation has been launched into the incident by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office.

According to internet watchdog NetBlocks, access to Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook in Turkey was restricted after the explosion.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz expressed his condolences to Turkey after the explosion, adding that "the defense establishment in Israel is prepared to assist as much as is required."

"In the last hour I conveyed my condolences on behalf of the defense establishment and on behalf of my counterpart, minister Akar. The attack is a harsh reminder of the need to strengthen cooperation against bloodthirsty terrorists who harm innocent civilians. This is what we are doing and this is how we will continue to act."

Prime Minister Yair Lapid expressed his condolences after the explosion as well, stating "We will fight terrorism together, with a heavy hand, wherever terrorism raises its head."

Israeli officials ask tourists in Turkey to exercise caution and listen to authorities

An Israeli security official said that the recommendation for Israelis in Istanbul is to stay at their hotels until the situation is clearer, and to listen to the Turkish authorities. 

The National Security Council has constant recommendations for visitors to countries considered a medium or level three danger, such as Turkey at this time, and should be avoided unless the trip is necessary. These include keeping relatives up to date on their location, not publicizing their location on social media, stay away from demonstrations, hide that they are Israeli, do not enter unidentified vehicles, and stay alert. 

Rabbi Mendy Chitrik of the Ashkenazi Synagogue in Istanbul told The Jerusalem Post that he and other community members have gone to all of the hospitals in the area in order to find any Jews or Israelis who were Injured.

Chitrik said that the Jewish community wasn't affected by this attack, but that they canceled the memorial event, commemorating 19 years since the terrorist attack at Neve Shalom and Beit Israel. According to the Hebrew calendar, this attack took place on the same day the terrorist attack against two of synagogues in 2003: the 20th of the month of Cheshvan.

This is a developing story.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.