At least ten people have been killed in a terrorist bombing this morning in Istanbul, at one of Turkey’s most popular tourist attractions.
Turkish government officials are saying that the strike was carried out by a 28-year-old Syrian national, whose name has not yet been released.
The explosion occurred at 10:20 a.m. local time in the historic Sultanahmet district, near the obelisk of Theodosius, a short distance from the “Blue Mosque” (formally, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque). At least 15 other people were wounded.
Assuming the accuracy of the government’s report that the culprit was a Syrian, and given the fact that the timing and location appear calculated to maximize carnage, particularly of Western tourists, there is a very high likelihood that the bombing was a jihadist operation. Terrorist attacks by the PKK, the Kurdish Communist separatist organization with which Turkey’s Islamist government is clashing, tend to be on government targets, not tourists.
The obvious suspects are the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, al-Nusra. Both have exploited Turkey as a gateway to the jihad in Syria, as well as a haven for the arming and training of “rebel” forces fighting Syria’s Assad regime. The Islamist government of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now bitterly opposes Assad, with whom it was formerly on good terms. The Erdogan government has been complicit in arming jihadists, contributing to the resurgence of al Qaeda and the rise of ISIS, a breakaway faction of al-Qaeda.
Initial reports after a terrorist attack are notoriously of suspect accuracy. In this instance, given Erdogan’s propensity to manipulate press coverage, we may have to wait before we can say with confidence who exactly is behind the attack. Meanwhile, Turkey is on alert for the possibility of more attacks, as are European states.