Turkish police arrest 46 people over Istanbul explosion

Turkish police have arrested 46 people in an explosion in central Istanbul that killed at least eight and injured 81, Istanbul police said.

Interior Minister Suleiman Soylu told reporters on Monday that the suspects included “a person who set off an explosive device” on busy Istiklal Avenue in Turkey’s largest city.

Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu reported from Istanbul that a three-year-old girl and her father were among the dead.

Soylu blamed the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for Sunday’s blast at a popular shopping and tourist destination, saying: “Our assessment is that the order for the deadly terrorist attack came from Ain al-Arab. [Kobane] in northern Syria,” where he said the group has its Syrian headquarters.

“We will take revenge against those responsible for this heinous terrorist attack,” he said, adding that the death toll had risen from six to eight and 81 people were injured, two of them seriously.

Turkish officials do not deny ISIL (ISIS) ties, a senior Turkish official said on Monday.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the blast.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday described the explosion as “treacherous” and said it “reeks of terrorism”.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told A Heber television later on Sunday that a woman was seen sitting on a bench on Istiklal Avenue for more than 40 minutes.

The explosion occurred minutes after she woke up, he said.

“There are two possibilities,” he told A. Haber. “Either a system is placed in this bag and it detonates, or someone detonates it remotely. [it]”

Al Jazeera has obtained photographs of the woman suspected of being behind the bombings.

During preliminary interrogation, the woman said she was trained by Kurdish militants in Syria and had entered Turkey from the Afrin region in northwestern Syria, police said.

Television news also showed images of a person, who appeared to be a woman, dropping off a package under a raised flower bed on Istiklal, which has a tramline running the length of the street.

Al Jazeera’s Koseoglu said two other Syrian nationals were involved in the attack, according to security sources.

“The interior minister noted that these criminals belong to the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish militant group, which Turkey considers an offshoot of the outlawed PKK,” Koceoglu said.

“We are waiting for authorities to provide more details about the suspects… [including] How did they cross the Turkish-Syrian border because Turkey is very strict with Syrians without residence permits or unregistered in big cities.

She added that the woman appeared to be in her late twenties or early thirties and that at 2:50 a.m. “the police took her into custody at the place where she was staying”.

According to Istanbul police, 1,200 security cameras near the blast site have been checked. Police raided 21 different addresses identified as being linked to the female suspect.

Kurdish separatists, ISIL (ISIS) and other groups have previously targeted Istanbul and other Turkish cities, including a series of attacks in 2015 and 2016.

These include twin bombings outside an Istanbul football stadium in December 2016 that killed 38 people and injured 155. The attack was claimed by an offshoot of the PKK, which has campaigned for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey since the 1980s and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

Regularly targeted by Turkish military operations, the PKK is also at the center of a spat between Sweden and Turkey, which has been blocking Stockholm’s entry into NATO since May and accusing it of leniency toward the Kurdish group.

Many countries including Azerbaijan, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Pakistan, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States drew condemnations of Sunday’s attack and condolences for the victims.

Greece “unequivocally” condemned and expressed condolences over the blast, while the US said it “stands shoulder to shoulder with our NATO ally in the fight against terrorism”.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a message to the Turkish public: “We share your pain. We stand with you in the fight against terrorism.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also tweeted in Turkish: “The suffering of the friendly Turkish people is our suffering.”

European Council President Charles Michel also expressed his condolences, tweeting: “My thoughts are with the victims and their families.”

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