President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke on television of a "vile attack". Those responsible would be "unmasked". The responsible authorities "are working to find the perpetrators," said Erdogan. The first signs pointed to a "terrorist attack" in which a woman was involved. "It would (...) be wrong to say that it is definitely about terrorism, but according to the first signs it smells like terrorism," said Erdogan.
The explosion happened on Sunday 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.
The broadcasting regulator (RTUK) immediately banned the media from disseminating images of the event. This is to prevent "fear, panic and unrest" from arising among the population and that the pictures could "serve the goals of the terrorist organizations," said Farhettin Altun, the presidential adviser responsible for government communications.
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."
The mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, was there quickly. "I was informed by the firefighters on Istiklal. They are continuing their work in coordination with the police," he wrote on Twitter, expressing his condolences to the victims' families.
Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier condoled Erdogan. "The news of the devastating explosion in the middle of busy Istanbul shook me," said 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. "My thoughts are with the people who just wanted to stroll down Istiklal shopping street on a Sunday and have now fallen victim to a massive explosion."
Neighboring Greece also immediately condemned the explosion and expressed its condolences to the Turkish government and people.
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".