Day of mourning declared in Turkey after blasts kill 29
December 12, 2016
ISTANBUL — Turkey declared a national day of mourning Sunday after twin blasts in Istanbul killed 29 people and wounded 166 others near a soccer stadium — the latest large-scale assault to traumatize a nation confronting an array of security threats.
The bombs Saturday night targeted police officers, killing 27 of them along with two civilians, Turkey's Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters early Sunday. He said 10 people had been arrested in connection with the "terrorist attack."
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim ordered flags to fly at half-staff Sunday across the country and at Turkey's foreign missions.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but one official said suspicions were focused on Kurdish militants. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told the private news channel CNN Turk that "arrows point to the PKK." He was referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has waged a decades-long insurgency.
The civilian death toll was lower because fans had already left the newly built Vodafone Arena Stadium after the soccer match when the blasts occurred. Witnesses also heard gunfire after the explosions.
"We have once again witnessed tonight in Istanbul the ugly face of terror which tramples on every value and decency," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
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Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency said 19 of the 166 people wounded in the blasts were in intensive care Sunday and the others were still receiving medical treatment.
The first and larger explosion took place about 7:30 p.m. after the home team Besiktas beat visitor Bursaspor 2-1 in the Turkish Super League. Erdogan said the timing of the attack aimed to maximize the loss of life and vowed the nation would overcome terrorism.
Soylu said the first explosion was caused by a passing vehicle that detonated in an area where police special forces were located at the stadium exit. A riot police bus appears to have been the target.
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said a person who had been stopped in nearby Macka Park committed suicide by triggering explosives moments later.
Forensic experts in white uniforms scoured the vicinity of the stadium and the vast park where the suicide bombing took place. Glass from the blown-out windows of nearby buildings littered the pavement.
This year Istanbul has witnessed a spate of attacks attributed by authorities to the Islamic State group or claimed by Kurdish militants. A state of emergency is in force following a failed July 15 coup attempt.
Soylu acknowledged the country was struggling against "many elements" trying to compromise its fight against terrorism.
Turkey is a partner in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State and its armed forces are active in neighboring Syria and Iraq. It is also facing a renewed conflict with an outlawed Kurdish movement in the southeast.
Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said Washington condemned the attack in "the strongest terms."
"We stand together with Turkey, our NATO Ally, against all terrorists who threaten Turkey, the United States, and global peace and stability," Price said.
The Besiktas sports club "strongly condemned" the attack and said an employee was among the fatalities, as well as a security official. Bursaspor issued a statement wishing "a speedy recovery to our wounded citizens."
Aleksander Ceferin, president of European soccer's governing body UEFA, and European Union Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn also condemned the attack.
"Violence has no place in a democratic society," Hahn wrote on Twitter.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini expressed the bloc's "solidarity with Turkish citizens."
The U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul urged its citizens to avoid the area in Istanbul, which is also home to a Ritz Carlton hotel.
Turkey's radio and television board issued a temporary coverage ban citing national security concerns. It said "to avoid broadcasts that can result in public fear, panic or chaos, or that will serve the aims of terrorist organizations."
Cinar Kiper in Istanbul contributed.