Instanbul, Turkey: Suicide Bomber Blows Himself Up In Crowded Square
At least 32 people wounded, including 15 police officers
People help victims of a suicide bombing near the police station in central Istanbul's Taksim Square (LOS ANGELES TIMES / OSMAN ORSAL, REUTERS / October 31, 2010)
The attack in Taksim Square, which was followed by police gunfire and sent hundreds of panicked people racing for cover, coincided with the possible end of a unilateral cease-fire by Kurdish rebels, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Turkey, a NATO ally that has deployed troops in a non-combat role in Afghanistan, is also home to cells of radical leftists and Islamic militants.
Istanbul police chief Huseyin Capkin said the bomber tried but failed to get into a parked police van and detonated the bomb just outside the vehicle, blowing himself to pieces.
Riot police are routinely stationed at Taksim, a popular spot for street demonstrations that abuts a major pedestrian walkway whose shops and restaurants are usually packed.
At least 32 people, including 15 police officers, were injured, at least two of them seriously, Istanbul Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu said.
After the blast, he said, investigators at the scene found and defused a package of plastic explosives that could have been detonated with the push of a button.
"It was a terrifying, very loud explosion," said Mehmet Toz, a coffee stall owner who was in the square at the time of the blast.
"Everyone started to run around, people fell on the ground. There was panic."
Another witness, Muammer Ulutas, said a policeman fired four rounds at the body of the suicide bomber after the explosion.
He glimpsed the remains of the assailant, who appeared to be in his early 20s.
The attack occurred as Istanbul was preparing to hold Republic Day parades to mark the 1923 founding of Turkey. The celebrations were originally planned for Friday, but were delayed due to heavy rain.
Taksim Square, a transport hub that is a major stop on the city's underground train network and close to the Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton and other major hotels, was festooned with red and white Turkish flags.
Kurdish rebels fighting for autonomy in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast have a history of suicide bombings in Turkey and their unilateral cease-fire was scheduled to expire at the end of October.
The state has held secretive talks with the jailed leader of the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in an effort to end the conflict, But an ongoing trial of more than 150 Kurds, including a dozen elected mayors, on charges of rebel links is a sign of the deep reserves of mistrust between authorities and the ethnic minority.
Interior Minister Besir Atalay, speaking to Turkish journalists on a visit to China, said "certain suspicions, certain evidence" indicated who was behind the attack, but said the government would not rush to announce its theories.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was inaugurating a hamlet for villagers whose homes are to be flooded by a new dam in southeastern Turkey, said the suicide attack was aimed at "obstructing Turkey's development."
"We will not show any tolerance toward those who to want cause turmoil," Erdogan said.
President Abdullah Gul said the assailants would "fail in their aim to replace friendship, brotherhood and peace with violence in the face of the people's will for unity to live as brothers."