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Suicide Bombing At Istanbul Tourist Site Leaves At Least 10 Dead


A deadly terror attack in Istanbul today - officials say at least 10 people, eight of them Germans, were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the heart of Istanbul's tourist district. He was apparently Syrian and said to be linked to ISIS. In a moment, we'll hear about Germany's reaction to the attack. First, NPR's Peter Kenyon was on the scene shortly after the blast and has this report.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Istanbul's Blue Mosque has been high in the city's list of must-see sites for years, but today, it was a scene of terrible bloodshed as a suicide bomber detonated his device amid a tour group outside the mosque. The blast could be heard for miles. Erdal Karatas is a 28-year-old waiter at the Pasha Sultanahmet restaurant up the hill from a main square were the blast took place. Even hundreds of yards away, he was finding shrapnel.

ERDAL KARATAS: I hear one bomb, actually. Yeah, I first scared. I thought maybe some electric machine or something else, but I see bomb, of course. I see some pieces over there.

KENYON: At least 200 yards from this square, and it came this far.

KARATAS: Yeah. I was far, but it's too strong, maybe.

KENYON: Police quickly cordoned off the scene and closed nearby monuments for fear that there might be a secondary attack planned. As helicopters circled overhead, British photographer Johnny Green contemplated the close call he and two friends had just had. On a one-day layover in Istanbul, they decided to visit the Blue Mosque with a friend who lives in the city. And just as they stepped back outside, the explosion echoed through the square.

JOHNNY GREEN: Yeah. We just came out of the Blue Mosque and just walked, and suddenly, it just went off like that. And, yeah, it was almost like two blasts, really. The friend we met who lives here - she's lived in Istanbul for seven years, and she was petrified. So as soon as that happened, she just wanted to run as far away in the opposite direction. I was caught between - my usual thing is to run towards the action.

KENYON: Unlike previous attacks - a suicide bombing in Ankara left more than a hundred dead in October - Turkish authorities were quick to point a finger of blame in this case, and it pointed at ISIS.


RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Speaking Turkish).

KENYON: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the bomber was a member of ISIS and had crossed over from Syria. Erdogan then went on to defend Turkey's controversial anti-terrorism tactics. Germany says eight of its citizens were killed in the blast, and Peru says one Peruvian was killed. Turkey's prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, telephoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel to offer condolences over the large proportion of German victims. Davutoglu says the blast will not alter Turkey's foreign policy.


AHMET DAVUTOGLU: (Through interpreter) The perpetrator of this attack is a foreigner who belongs to ISIS. That's what our investigation has shown. The terror we face today is mainly due to the conflict and the absence of security in Syria. Until ISIS is eliminated as a threat, Turkey will continue to fight it as a member of the anti-ISIS coalition.

KENYON: The signal was clear. If ISIS believes these attacks will shake Turkey out of the American-led coalition, they're mistaken. Analyst Sonor Captagay at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy says a U.S.-Turkish operation to attack ISIS positions in Northern Syria could start in the near future.

But the fallout from this attack is just beginning to be felt. It's a blow to the Turkish tourism industry and to the security services who say this bomber was not on their lengthy list of potential terror suspects. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.