Turkish police say they have arrested a Syrian woman suspected of links to Kurdish militants who admitted to leaving explosives along the popular Isitikal Avenue in central Istanbul.
Police identified the suspect as Ahlam Albashir, a citizen of Syria.
Istiklal Avenue is a popular street with shops and restaurants that leads to Taksim Square.
The Istanbul Police Department said videos from around 1,200 security cameras were reviewed and searches were conducted at 21 locations. At least Another 46 people were detained for testing.
The suspect reportedly left the scene in a taxi after leaving a TNT-type explosive on the crowded avenue, police said.
Sunday’s blast was a shocking reminder of the anxiety that gripped Turkey when such attacks were common. The country was hit by a series of deadly bombings between 2015 and 2017, some by the Islamic State group, others by Kurdish militants seeking greater autonomy or independence.
Police said the suspect told them during questioning that she had been trained as a “special intelligence officer” by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, as well as the Syrian Kurdish group the Democratic Union Party and its armed wing. She entered Turkey illegally through the Syrian border town of Afrin, police said.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party denied involvement in the statement, saying they did not target civilians. The main Kurdish militia group in Syria, the People’s Defense Units, denied any links to the suspect. The group claimed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was trying to drum up international support for his plans to launch a new incursion into northern Syria ahead of next year’s elections.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said the suspect would have fled to neighboring Greece had she not been arrested.
“We know what message those who carried out this action want to send us. We got this message,” Soylu said. “Don’t worry, we’ll pay them back.”
Soylu also blamed the United States, arguing that the condolence message from the White House was akin to “the first killer on the scene of a crime.” Turkey has been enraged by US support for Syrian Kurdish groups.
In its message, the White House said it strongly condemned the “act of violence” in Istanbul, adding: “We stand shoulder to shoulder with our NATO ally (Turkey) in the fight against terrorism.”
Turkish television released footage that allegedly shows the main suspect being detained in the house where she was allegedly hiding. Police are said to have also seized large amounts of cash, gold and guns while searching the house.
The minister told reporters that Kurdish militants allegedly ordered the main suspect to be killed to avoid evidence reaching them.
Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya said that of the 81 people hospitalized in the attack, 57 had been discharged. Six of the wounded are in intensive care, and two are in danger, he said. The six who died in the explosion were members of three families, including children aged 9 and 15.
On Monday, funerals were held for six victims, including Adem Topkara and his wife Elif Topkara, who left their two young children with their aunt and were walking along Istiklal Street at the time of the explosion.
Istiklal Avenue was reopened to pedestrian traffic at 6 a.m. Monday after police completed an inspection. People started leaving carnations at the site of the explosion, while the street was decorated with hundreds of Turkish flags.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, has been fighting an armed insurgency in Turkey since 1984. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since then.
Both Ankara and Washington consider the PKK a terrorist group, but differ on the issue of the Syrian Kurdish group, which fought against IS in Syria.
In recent years, Erdogan has led a broad crackdown on militants, Kurdish MPs and activists. Amid skyrocketing inflation and other economic problems, Erdogan’s anti-terror campaign is a key rallying point for him ahead of Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections next year.
After attacks between 2015 and 2017 that killed more than 500 civilians and security personnel, Turkey launched cross-border military operations in Syria and northern Iraq against Kurdish militants, while also cracking down on Kurdish politicians, journalists and activists at home.
“In almost six years, we have not experienced a serious terrorist incident like the one we experienced yesterday evening in Istanbul. We are ashamed in front of our nation in this regard,” Soylu said.
Turkey’s media watchdog imposed restrictions on reporting on Sunday’s blast – a move that bans the use of close-up videos and photos of the blast and its aftermath.
Access to Twitter and other social media was also restricted on Sunday.
Watch the Euronews report in the player above.