Istiklal Avenue is a picture of chaos at the best of times. Istanbul’s answer to Oxford Street, the bustling pedestrian area is lined with upmarket shops, cafes and overpriced kebab stands. Groups of men sit out till late at night on benches drinking tea and playing chess, while families pushing buggies jostle with tourists for ice cream and pastries.
On Sunday, though, that chaos gave way to outright panic when an explosion ripped through the heart of the city, Europe’s largest and home to more than 15 million people. One shopper captured the moment the fireball erupted in the packed crowd, sending women and children scrambling to escape. Meanwhile, pictures taken from offices overlooking Istiklal show mangled bodies and scorched paving stones.
According to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, this ‘treacherous attack’ has killed at least six people, with a further 81 believed to have been injured. The hunt for the perpetrators, he announced as the dust settled, will be swift and decisive. Since then, 46 suspects have reportedly been detained in connection with the bombing. Among them is a young woman that officials say ‘placed the bomb that caused the explosion’ and who was allegedly captured on CCTV moments before the detonation.
Ankara has wasted little time in pointing the finger. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu declared on Monday that the attack was perpetrated by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian Kurdish allies, the YPG. According to him, the order was given from their headquarters in Northern Syria.
For years, Turkish forces have been fighting running battles against militias in the breakaway region, where Kurdish groups had strengthened their hand following the defeat of ISIS.