A bomb ripped through one of Istanbul’s busiest streets on Sunday, killing six people, with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggesting the blast might be an act of terrorism.
The attack also wounded 81 people, officials said. The explosion occurred at 4.20pm on Istiklal Avenue, a pedestrianised street lined with restaurants, shops and consulates. Thousands of people, including tourists, visit the area each day.
“Our state is working to expose the perpetrators of this treacherous attack. Efforts to force Turkey and the Turkish people’s surrender to terrorism will not succeed,” Erdoğan told reporters in televised comments. “The initial information I have received from the governor has the smell of terrorism,” he said.
Istiklal Avenue was the site of a suicide bombing blamed on Islamic State in March 2016 that killed five people, including two Israeli-Americans. That attack was one of a spate of bombings that began ahead of the November 2015 election that left hundreds of people dead.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for Sunday’s attack, the deadliest bombing in Istanbul since late 2016. Kurdish militants and leftwing extremists have also staged bomb attacks in Turkey’s biggest city in the past.
Fuat Oktay, the Turkish vice-president, told reporters that authorities were treating the explosion as “a terrorist act that occurred as a result of an attacker, whom we believe to be a woman, detonating the bomb”. He did not provide more details on the bomber’s identity or whether there was an affiliation with any group.
Turkey is due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in June next year. The attack could also threaten Turkey’s crisis-hit economy, which relies on tourism for tens of billions of dollars of foreign currency inflows.
One video posted on social media showed a ball of flame and a loud bang on the crowded street. Another video showed at least 10 people lying motionless on the ground and an overturned pram, with chunks of concrete strewn about.
Authorities imposed reporting restrictions on television and radio coverage on Sunday, instructing them to only report official statements to prevent “turmoil in society that may serve terrorist organisations’ purposes”, according to the government communications directorate.
Access to Twitter and other social media sites was sporadic, and the state Information and Communication Technologies Authority was limiting the bandwidth of the platforms, the IHA news agency reported.
Istanbul’s chief prosecutor said in a statement that an investigation had been launched into “posts of negative news on social media accounts” about the attack, and the national police said it was investigating 25 account holders.
Turkey last month enacted a “disinformation law” that includes prison sentences of up to three years for social media posts that are deemed a threat to national security or public health.