Turkey arrests suspect over Istanbul attack

13th January 2016, Comments 0 comments

Turkey said Wednesday it had arrested one person in connection with a deadly suicide bombing that ripped through the historic heart of Istanbul, killing 10 German tourists and raising alarm over security in the country.

Ankara has said that Tuesday's attack was carried out by a 28-year-old Syrian who belonged to the Islamic State (IS) group and had recently entered Turkey from Syria.

Turkish security forces over the last days also rounded up 74 suspected IS members across the country, state media said, but it was not clear if any were directly connected to the Istanbul bombing.

One person was arrested on Tuesday evening in connection with the bloodshed, Interior Minister Efkan Ala said on Wednesday, without explaining the suspect's role in the strike.

"The investigation is continuing in a very intensive way," Ala told a news conference in Istanbul alongside German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere.

The German foreign ministry in Berlin said Wednesday that 10 of those killed in the attack were German, without specifying if they accounted for all the victims.

But de Maiziere said there was "no indication" the attack specifically targeted Germans, saying there was no need to cancel travel plans.

"It was an attack against humanity," he said. "I see no reason to refrain from trips to Turkey."

But the German foreign ministry has advised its nationals to keep away from large groups in public places and tourist attractions in Istanbul.

German tourism giant TUI said customers who had booked trips to Istanbul can switch destination without paying a penalty.

- Posing as a refugee? -

Turkey has been hit by a string of deadly attacks blamed on jihadists over the last year, including a double suicide bombing in October in Ankara that killed more than 100 people.

But Tuesday's bombing was the first time in recent memory tourists had been targeted in the heart of Istanbul.

The bomber, identified as Nabil Fadli, detonated his charge in Sultanahmet Square, home to Turkey's most visited historic sites including the Ottoman-era Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia church.

The explosion went off by the Obelisk of Theodosius, a monument from ancient Egypt, one of the city's most iconic landmarks.

The Sabah daily said the bomber had entered Turkey as a refugee from Syria on January 5.

He was then fingerprinted by the Turkish migration service, explaining why the authorities were able to identify the bomber so rapidly after the attack.

The Hurriyet daily said Turkey's spy agency had twice issued warnings over the risk of a suicide attack in Istanbul.

- 'Pray for the victims' -

Police on Wednesday removed a cordon preventing access to the area of the attack, which was quickly thronged by media and some tourists, an AFP correspondent said.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and de Maiziere placed red roses by the obelisk, which appeared to have sustained no damage in the bombing.

The blast left 15 people wounded, most of them Germans but also Norwegians, Peruvians and at least one Turk. Berlin said seven injured Germans were being treated in hospital, five of them in intensive care.

The tourists were part of a group of 33 who had been staying at a boutique hotel in the upmarket Galata district and had been bussed to Sultanahmet that morning, media reports said.

"I saw the young man pull the pin and I shouted 'run!' in German. Then we started to run away, and the bomb instantly exploded," the group's tour guide Sibel Satiroglu told investigators, the Hurriyet newspaper said.

In impromptu remarks at his weekly audience, Pope Francis called on all believers to pray for the victims.

- Crackdown on IS -

Long accused of failing to crack down on IS, Turkey has in recent months moved against jihadist cells operating on its territory, making hundreds of arrests.

Among the 74 arrested over the last two days were 16 people suspected of planning a major attack in Ankara, Anatolia news agency said.

On Wednesday, three more suspected IS members were detained in the southern resort city of Antalya. All three are Russian citizens, it added.

In the major southern hub of Adana, 17 people were arrested, including three more Russians as well as Tajiks, Afghans and a Swedish citizen.

And a week before the attack, 220 people "identified" as IS members were detained in Turkey, interior minister Ala said on Wednesday.

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© 2016 AFP

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