The explosion occurred on the Istiklal shopping street in the center of the Turkish metropolis, which is popular with tourists and locals alike. At the time of the attack in the afternoon, the pedestrian zone was particularly busy. A powerful bang is heard on recordings on online networks, followed by flames. The images also show a large, black crater and several people lying on the ground.
According to Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, the explosive device appeared to be in a bag on a bench. "A woman sat on one of the benches for more than 40 minutes and then got up. A minute or two later there was an explosion," he told broadcaster A Haber. All information about the woman is currently under review. "Either there was a timer in the bag or someone remotely detonated it."
President Erdogan had previously said the first signs pointed to a "terrorist attack" in which a woman was involved. "It would be (...) wrong to say that it is definitely terrorism, but the first indications are that it smells like terrorism," added the head of state.
After the attack, the authorities immediately banned the radio from broadcasting images of the event. This is intended to prevent "fear, panic and unrest" from arising among the population, explained Presidential Advisor Farhettin Altun. Access to online networks was also restricted after the attack, as reported by the online monitor Netblocks.
As an AFP journalist reported, the police cordoned off the affected area for fear of a second explosion. Helicopters were in action, sirens wailed. In the neighboring Galata district, many shops closed early and the cafés were empty in the evening.
"I was 50 to 55 meters away when suddenly an explosion was heard. I saw three or four people lying on the ground," witness Cemal Denizci, 57, told AFP. "People ran away in a panic. There was a lot of noise and there was black smoke everywhere."
According to Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, there were still 42 injured in the hospital in the evening, five of them in intensive care. Two of them were therefore in mortal danger.
The crime caused international outrage. "The news of the devastating explosion in the middle of busy Istanbul shook me," said Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "In this moment of shock, we Germans stand by the citizens of Istanbul and the Turkish people."
Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) also expressed dismay on Twitter. "Terrible images come from Istanbul," she wrote.
"We stand shoulder to shoulder with our NATO ally Turkey in the fight against terrorism," said White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre. EU Council President Charles Michel also expressed his condolences to Turkey.
Turkey, and Istanbul in particular, was the target of a bloody campaign of attacks in 2015 and 2016, to which the jihadist militia Islamic State claimed responsibility. 500 people died and more than 2000 were injured. One of the attacks was also carried out on Istiklal Street, the name of which means "independence".