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Tuesday, January 12, 2016, 22:13

At least 10 killed in Istanbul blast

By Agencies

At least 10 killed in Istanbul blast

ISTANBUL —  A Syrian suicide bomber detonated a bomb in a historic district of Istanbul popular with tourists Tuesday morning, killing at least 10 people and wounding 15 others, Turkish officials said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in televised remarks that both Turks and foreigners were among the dead in the explosion in the Sultanahmet district.

"I strongly condemn the terror incident that occurred in Istanbul, at the Sultanahmet Square, and which has been assessed as being an attack by a Syria-rooted suicide bomber," Erdogan said.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the bomber was a 28-year-old Syrian national whose "connections" were being investigated. He said most of the people who died were foreigners. It was unclear whether the death toll of 10 included the alleged bomber.

A senior Turkish government official said at least nine of the victims of are German nationals. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of Turkish rules that bar officials from speaking to journalists without authorization.

At least nine of the wounded were German nationals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at a news conference in Berlin, said Germans from a group traveling together could also be among the dead.

"Today Istanbul was hit; Paris has been hit, Tunisia has been hit, Ankara has been hit before," Merkel said. "International terrorism is once again showing its cruel and inhuman face today."

The explosion, which could be heard from several neighborhoods, was at a park that is home to a landmark obelisk, some 25 meters (yards) from the historic Blue Mosque.

Turkey's Dogan news agency reported that one Norwegian and one Peruvian were also among the wounded, and Seoul's Foreign Ministry told reporters via text message that a South Korean had a finger injury. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry told Norway's news agency NTB that the Norwegian tourist was slightly hurt and was being treated in a local hospital.

Kurtulmus, the deputy premier, said two of the wounded were in serious condition.

Germany and Denmark have warned their citizens to avoid crowds outside tourist attractions in Istanbul.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, although the Islamic State group was suspected. Kurdish militants and left-wing groups are active in Turkey.

At least 10 killed in Istanbul blast
Policemen secure an area at the historic Sultanahmet district, which is popular with tourists, after an explosion in Istanbul, Jan 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Last year, Turkey agreed to take a more active role in the US-led battle against the IS group. Turkey opened its bases to US aircraft to launch air raids on the extremist group in Syria and has carried out a limited number of strikes on the group itself.

It has also moved to tighten security along its 900-kilometer (560-mile) border with Syria in a bid to stem the flow of militants.

The attack comes at a time of heightened violence between Turkey's security forces and militants linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in the country's mostly-Kurdish southeast.

The country is also dealing with more than 2 million Syrian refugees and a wave of migrants from Syria and other countries pouring across Turkey to Europe.

Police sealed the area, barring people from approaching in case of a second explosion, and a police helicopter hovered overhead.

The Sultanahmet neighborhood is Istanbul's main sightseeing area and includes the Topkapi Palace and the former Byzantine church of Haghia Sophia, now a museum.

Turkey suffered two major bombing attacks last year, both blamed on the Islamic State group.

More than 30 people were killed in a suicide attack in the town of Suruc, near Turkey's border with Syria, in July.

Two suicide bombs exploded in October outside Ankara's main train station as people gathered for a peace rally, killing more than 100 in Turkey's deadliest-ever attack. The prosecutor's office said that attack was carried out by a local Islamic State cell.

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