Turkish minister: 29 killed, 166 wounded in Istanbul twin blasts

Posted at 3:28 PM, Dec 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-10 20:37:08-05

ISTANBUL, Turkey —Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu says two blasts after an Istanbul soccer match killed have 29 people and wounded 166 others.

The twin Saturday night bombings inflicted high casualties among police, killing 27 officers, as well as 2 civilians.

The explosions, one large blast followed by a smaller one, occurred about 11 p.m. local time (3 p.m. ET) after a heavily attended football game at Besiktas Vodafone Arena.

The blasts targeted police, state news agency TRT reported, but none of the victims have been identified.

The first explosion at Macka Park was considered a suicide attack,Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said, according to state news agency Anadolu. He didn’t say what caused the second explosion, which occurred near the arena. The two locations are less than a mile apart.

Soylu had earlier said a car bomb was the source of an explosion, according to Turkish state news agency TRT. However, it wasn’t clear to which blast he was referring.

Turkish President Erdogan, an ally to the United States in the fight against ISIS, issued a statement saying Istanbul had once again “witnessed the ugliest face of terror stepping on all values and morals. … Together with the help of Allah, as a country and a nation, we will overcome terror, terror organizations, terrorists and the … powers behind them.”

No group has claimed responsibility for the twin bombings but ISIS and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have staged attacks in Turkey over the past year.

Chaotic scene

Video showed a chaotic scene outside Besiktas Vodafone Arena as police converged on the area and emergency medical workers loaded victims into ambulances. Several blocks away, police towed cars parked at Taksim Square, a popular tourist area, as a precaution.

Istanbul’s team Besiktas had played Bursaspor in a Turkey League game that night at the football arena. The arena, which seats more than 40,000 people, had been renovated and reopened in April.

The Bursaspor football club issued a statement saying the explosion happened “close to the away team stands where our supporters were. We have received the news that around five minutes before the explosion took place, our supporters left the premises.”

Eyewitness accounts

Christopher James, a freelance writer and teacher living in Istanbul, told CNN he was at a hotel not far from the arena when the blasts occurred.

“We could hear and see the boom, and then after the boom the sound came back towards us,” he said. “It sounded like gunshots reverberating and then my phone started buzzing like crazy.”

Ramazan Hakki Oztan, a historian from Istanbul who was attending a casual gathering near the arena, also saw the explosions.

“We were at this hotel with this nice view of the old city by Taksim Square,” he said. “We saw this huge explosion that happened by the stadium … and 10 seconds or 15 seconds after there was another explosion. … The second bomb was smaller in size.”

He said he was near the arena earlier in the day and noticed a heavy police presence.

“I think they targeted the cops that were out there by the stadium who were protecting the spectators,” he said.

Following the explosions, the US Consulate in Istanbul tweeted: “Please avoid the area, monitor local press reporting, and let friends and family know you are OK.”

A violent year

Turkey has weathered a string of terrorist attacks over the past year and is still reeling from a bloody but failed attempt at a military coup in July.

Erdogan declared a state of emergency following the coup attempt and authorities carried out a large number of arrests.

ISIS is suspected in a June attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport that left 44 people dead and an explosion at an August wedding in Gaziantep, not far from the border with Syria, that killed at least 54 people.

Meanwhile, Turkish security forces continue to clash on a nearly daily basis with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants, mostly in predominantly Kurdish parts of southeastern Turkey. The Turkish army suspects the PKK was behind a September car bombing in southeast Turkey that killed at least 18 people. Other attacks have targeted Turkish police and army assets.

Adding to the sense of vulnerability, conflicts in Iraq and Syria have spilled over into Turkey, contributing to a surge in violence on the home front. The country also struggles with the burden of hosting millions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

In late October, The US government ordered all civilian family members of its Istanbul consulate staff to leave Turkey because of increasing threats from terrorist organizations.

In March, the Pentagon ordered family members to leave Incirlik Airbase in southeast Turkey and the State Department ordered families of employees of the US consulate in Adana to evacuate.

Bombings condemned

In an address on Saturday, Erdogan said, “It does not matter what is the name and the method of the terror organization who conducted the terror attack. Whenever Turkey takes a positive step towards the future the answer comes as blood savagery and chaos.”

During his statement, he called out ISIS, PKK and FETO, a movement affiliated with a US-based cleric, for targeting Turkey. Erdogan has accused FETO and the PKK of being involved in the failed coup.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also condemned Saturday’s attack. “I condemn the horrific acts of terror in Istanbul,” he said. “My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones in the bomb attacks, with those wounded and with the people of Turkey. We stand united in solidarity with our ally Turkey. We remain determined to fight terrorism in all its forms.”

UEFA, European football’s governing body, said on its verified Twitter account: “UEFA would like to express its deepest condolences to the families of all the victims of tonight’s bombing in Istanbul. We strongly condemn this horrible act and send our support to the Turkish Football Federation, Besiktas and Bursaspor football clubs.”