ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Bombs killed 15 people and wounded around 140 in Istanbul late on Sunday, just hours ahead of a court case over banning the governing party that has plunged Turkey into political turmoil.
Officials said one loud blast brought people into the streets of a busy shopping and eating area, then a larger bomb hidden in a rubbish bin exploded 10 minutes and 50 meters away, tearing through the crowds.
“This is a terror attack,” city governor Muammer Guler told reporters at the scene, in a pedestrianized street where families gather in the evenings to dine, sip tea and stroll, well away from the city’s tourist sites.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blasts, the deadliest attack in Turkey since 2003.
Television showed ambulances taking away the wounded in the middle-class Gungoren district of Turkey’s biggest city, near the main airport. Among the rubble and glass of broken shop windows, men carried away the wounded and children cried.
“First a percussion bomb exploded and then a bomb in a garbage container,” Deputy Prime Minister Hayati Yazici told reporters.
One witness said: “Tens of people were scattered around. People’s heads, arms, were flying in the air.”
“I condemn those who carried out this bombing, which shows us terrorism’s inhumane desire for cruelty and violence without discriminating between men and women, young, old and children,” President Abdullah Gul said in a statement.
An official at the Istanbul governor’s crisis centre told Reuters the death toll had now reached 15 and 137 people were injured, some seriously. Television stations put the injuries as high as 150.
Interior Minister Besir Atalay told CNN Turk television 15 people died and 15 were in critical condition.
Turkish newspaper Zaman reported on its website that three people had been detained in connection with the blasts.
Forensic teams were examining the scene of the blasts and police were now investigating the security cameras in the area.
“I heard the blast and I came running, people were running the other way to get away. As I approached I saw a huge black cloud coming out of the street. I saw about 10 bodies lying down on the ground,” Ercan Usta, who owns a cafe nearby, told Reuters.
Kurdish separatists, far-left groups and Islamists have all carried out bombings in Istanbul in the past.
Turkey, which is seeking European Union membership, has been plunged into political and economic uncertainty by a court case over banning the ruling party that begins on Monday.
The Constitutional Court, Turkey’s highest judicial body, will deliberate on whether the AK Party has engaged in Islamist activities and should be closed. The party denies the charges. A ruling is expected in early August.
Tensions have also been rising over a widening police investigation into a suspected ultra-nationalist group accused of seeking to overthrow the AK Party government. So far 86 people have been arrested, including well-known critics of the government.
Governor Guler said the “heinous attack” in Istanbul, which straddles Europe and Asia, was not a suicide bombing.
In Gungoren, on the European side, residents hung the red and white Turkish flag out of their homes after the bombs.
Earlier this month three Turkish police and three gunmen were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Istanbul.
The most serious attacks in recent years were in 2003, when 62 people were killed by Islamist militants targeting two synagogues, a bank and the British consulate in Istanbul.
State news agency Anatolian reported a failed suicide attack on a police station in Bingol province in southeast Turkey. One of the attackers was killed, one wounded and one escaped.