BAGHDAD — A Syrian-born suicide bomber triggered a blast Tuesday in the heart of one of Istanbul’s main tourist districts, a senior official said, killing at least 10 people in a further sign of the country’s deepening instability in a region wracked by war.
The attack struck directly at a hub of Istanbul’s important tourism trade, reflecting similar tactics used by militants against popular sites in countries including Tunisia and Egypt.
Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmuş, told reporters that the attacker was identified as a Syrian, but gave no other details following an emergency meeting of security officials.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Turkish officials have blamed the Islamic State for recent bombings elsewhere in Turkey. In addition, Kurdish separatists and domestic left-wing groups have carried out attacks in Turkey.
The blast occurred just before 10:30 a.m. in the Sultanahmet district, an area that includes the famed Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia complex, a former Byzantine-era basilica.
The vast plazas and surrounding streets are normally packed with merchants, vendors and visitors. At least 15 people also were injured in the explosion, officials said.
Live feed from the blast site aired by Turkey’s Dogan news agency showed paramedics loading wounded onto ambulances. The government later announced a ban on media coverage of the attack.
Dogan also reported that foreign tourists – including Germans, Norwegians, and a Peruvian – were among the wounded. That report could not be confirmed. The blast occurred near a local tram station close to the Obelisk of Theodosius, an ancient Egyptian monolith brought to Istanbul — then known as Constantinople — in the 4th century.
Police sealed the area, and helicopters patrolled overhead.
The attack in Istanbul comes as Turkey is grappling with instability from the five-year-old civil war in neighboring Syria. Turkish forces have not directly intervened in the Syrian conflict, but have been under Western pressure to crack down on the cross-border flow of people and supplies to Islamic State strongholds in Turkey.
Turkey is also a main backer of rebel groups opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and has recently stepped up its decades-old fight against Kurdish separatists. Other Turkish political cells have staged their own attacks.
A year ago, a Chechen woman believed linked to militant factions blew herself up outside a police post in Sultanahmet in a suicide attack. One police officer also was killed.
There were two major suicide bomb attacks on peace activists in the country’s southeast last year, killing more than 100 people. The government blamed the Islamic State for those explosions, but the militant group never asserted responsibility.
Just before New Year’s, Turkish officials said they foiled a plot to launch a wave of attacks over the holiday.
Turkey last summer opened its Incirlik air base to U.S. warplanes carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Syria.
Murphy reported from Washington.
This article was written by Erin Cunningham;Brian Murphy from The Washington Post and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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