Is Istanbul Safe For Tourists? An Explosion Rocks One Of Turkey's Most Popular Areas
After Tuesday morning's blast, questions have risen about Istanbul's safety. Shortly after 10 a.m. local time, an explosion killed at least 10 people in a central area of the city popular with tourists. The Istanbul governor's office website said at least 15 people were also wounded. The explosion occurred in a square near the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, arguably the two largest tourist attractions in the city. Reuters reported that local news reports pointed to a possible suicide bomber being responsible.
A statement from the Istanbul governor's office said that police are still investigating the type of explosives use and who the possible perpetrators might be. Speaking on live TV, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said a suicide bomber of Syrian origin was believed to have been responsible. This is the latest in a string of explosions in the city and around Turkey. In December, five people were injured when a pipe bomb went off near a Istanbul metro station. In October, two suicide bombings in Ankara thought to be carried out by ISIS killed 102 and injured more than 400.
Those attacks, however, did not target tourists. Despite being the worst bombing ever on Turkish soil, according to BBC News, the Ankara attack targeted a Turkish peace rally protesting against increased violence between the government and Kurdish separatists. The December metro bombing occurred in a largely industrial and residential area of Istanbul.
Tuesday's explosion, on the other hand, did target areas of the city frequented by foreign tourists. Conflicting reports have surfaced regarding foreigners affected by the attack. Turkish English-language newspaper Hurriyet Daily News had reported that six Germans, one Norwegian, and one Peruvian were among the injured. The Guardian later reported that nine Germans had died in the attack. Western governments have already begun to warn their citizens visiting the area. AFP reported that Germany warned its citizens to avoid tourist sites in Istanbul. The New York Times translated the statement:
Travelers in Istanbul are urgently advised to temporarily avoid crowds, even on public squares and outside tourist attractions. One has to continue to expect political tensions, violent confrontations, and terrorist attacks across the country.
Conflicting eyewitness reports on Twitter showed both empty plazas near the blast site and packed streets in the same area of the city. In addition to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, the Sultanahmet neighborhood is home to the Ottoman palace, museums, and the city's famous Grand Bazaar and Spice Market.
The United States is among the many countries that has issued warnings to its citizens about travel to Turkey since at least last year. There is not a blanket warning on the country, just along the southeastern border with Turkey, which borders Syria and Iraq. The warning did note, however, that sites frequented by foreign tourists have been a target in the past.
Forensic experts are already on the scene, and police have closed off the area due to concerns of a second blast. No matter who is eventually found responsible, tourism in Istanbul will likely suffer as a result of Tuesday's attacks.