Suicide bomber kills 10 people, mainly Germans, in Istanbul

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Suspected Suicide Bomber Kills at Least 10 in Turkey

(Reuters) -- A suicide bomber thought to have crossed recently from Syria killed at least 10 people, most of them German tourists, in Istanbul's historic heart on Tuesday, in an attack Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu blamed on Islamic State.

All of those killed in Sultanahmet square, near the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia - major tourist sites in the center of one of the world's most visited cities - were foreigners, Davutoglu said. A senior Turkish official said nine were German, while Peru's foreign ministry said a Peruvian man also died.

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Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the bomber was believed to have recently entered Turkey from Syria but was not on Turkey's watch list of suspected militants. He said earlier that the bomber had been identified from body parts at the scene and was thought to be a Syrian born in 1988.

Davutoglu said he had spoken by phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to offer condolences and vowed Turkey's fight against Islamic State, at home and as part of the U.S.-led coalition, would continue.

"Until we wipe out Daesh, Turkey will continue its fight at home and with coalition forces," he said in comments broadcast live on television, using an Arabic name for Islamic State. He vowed to hunt down and punish those linked to the bomber.

See photos from the scene of the blast:

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Suicide bomb explosion in Istanbul, Turkey
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Suicide bomber kills 10 people, mainly Germans, in Istanbul
Members of Turkish medical association (TTB) stand after laying flowers in Istanbul's tourist hub of Sultanahmet where at least 10 people were killed and 15 wounded in a suspected terrorist attack, on January 12, 2016. / AFP / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
German Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere leaves flowers in tribute to the victims at the site of yesterday's attack in the city's tourist hub of Sultanahmet on January 13, 2016 in Istanbul. Turkish authorities probed how a jihadist from Syria killed 10 mainly German tourists in an attack in the heart of Istanbul that raised alarm over security in the city. / AFP / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on January 13, 2016 shows flowers and a scarf of German football team Bayern Munchen in tribute to victims of January 12 deadly attack in Istanbul's tourist hub of Sultanahmet. Turkey said on January 13, 2016 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. / AFP / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (R) and his wife Sare Davutoglu, together with German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere arrive to place flowers in tribute to the victims at the site of yesterday's attack in the city's tourist hub of Sultanahmet on January 13, 2016 in Istanbul. Turkish authorities probed how a jihadist from Syria killed 10 mainly German tourists in an attack in the heart of Istanbul that raised alarm over security in the city. / AFP / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JANUARY 13: People leave roses for the ones who lost their lives in an attack at Sultanahmet square after it has been reopened to media and public in Istanbul, Turkey on January 13, 2016. A blast at Istanbuls Sultanahmet tourist district on Tuesday morning killed 10 people and wounded 15 others. A Syrian suicide bomber carried out Tuesdays attack in Istanbuls Sultanahmet tourist district, Turkeys president said. (Photo by Onur Ãoban/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Tourists walk backdropped by the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque, in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, following an explosion nearby, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. The explosion killed several people and wounded 15 others Tuesday morning in the historic district of Istanbul popular with tourists. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a Syria-linked suicide bomber is believed to be behind the attack.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Police search the area at the historic Sultanahmet district after an explosion in Istanbul, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. An explosion killed at least 10 people and injured 15 others Tuesday morning in a historic district of Istanbul popular with tourists, the Istanbul governor's office said. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Turkish police block access to the Blue Mosque area on January 12, 2016 after a blast in Istanbul's tourist hub of Sultanahmet left 10 people dead. Ten people were killed and 15 wounded in a suspected terrorist attack on January 12 in the main tourist hub of Turkey's largest city Istanbul, officials said. A powerful blast rocked the Sultanahmet neighbourhood which is home to Istanbul's biggest concentration of monuments and and is visited by tens of thousands of tourists every day. / AFP / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JANUARY 12: Ambulances gather around Sultanahmet tourist district after an explosion in Istanbul, Turkey on January 12, 2016. Turkish police have sealed off central Istanbul square in historic Sultanahmet district after the explosion was heard. Ambulances raced to the scene in the minutes after the explosion. (Photo by Veli Gurgah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Policemen install security barriers at the historic Sultanahmet district, which is popular with tourists, after an explosion in Istanbul, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. Turkish media reports say several people have been injured in the explosion. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Ambulances and firefighters stationed near the city's landmark Sultan Ahmed Mosque or Blue Mosque after an explosion at Istanbul's historic Sultanahmet district, which is popular with tourists, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. The Istanbul governor's office says the explosion at the city's historic Sultanahmet district has killed least 10 people. A statement says 15 other people were injured in Tuesday's blast. The cause of the explosion is under investigation, but state-run TRT television says it was likely caused by a suicide bomber. The monument in the background is "German Fountain." (IHA via AP) TURKEY OUT
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JANUARY 12: Ambulances gather around Sultanahmet tourist district after an explosion in Istanbul, Turkey on January 12, 2016. Turkish police have sealed off central Istanbul square in historic Sultanahmet district after the explosion was heard. Ambulances raced to the scene in the minutes after the explosion. (Photo by Arif Hudaverdi Yaman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
This image from video shows medics and security members with injured people lying on the ground after an explosion at Istanbul's historic Sultanahmet district, which is popular with tourists, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. The cause of the explosion, which could be heard from several neighborhoods, was not immediately known but TRT said the blast was likely caused by a suicide bomber. (IHA via AP) TURKEY OUT
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JANUARY 12: A wounded man is seen on the ground at the Sultanahmet tourist district after an explosion in Istanbul, Turkey on January 12, 2016. Turkish police have sealed off central Istanbul square in historic Sultanahmet district after the explosion was heard. Ambulances raced to the scene in the minutes after the explosion. (Photo by Arif Hudaverdi Yaman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JANUARY 12: A dead body lies on the ground as police secure the area after an explosion in the central Istanbul Sultanahmet district on January 12, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. At least 10 people have been killed and 15 wounded in a suicide bombing near tourists in the central Istanbul historic Sultanahmet district, which is home to world-famous monuments including the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. Turkish President Erdogan has stated that the suicide bomber was of Syrian origin. (Photo by Can Erok/Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Emergency responders work beside victims at the site of a blast in Istanbul's Sultanahmet district, the city's main tourist hub, on January 12, 2016. Ten people were killed and 15 wounded in a suspected terrorist attack on January 12 in the main tourist hub of Turkey's largest city Istanbul, officials said. A powerful blast rocked the Sultanahmet neighbourhood which is home to Istanbul's biggest concentration of monuments and and is visited by tens of thousands of tourists every day. / AFP / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Police and media gather in front of the Blue Mosque at the historic Sultanahmet district after an explosion in Istanbul, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. An explosion in a historic district of Istanbul popular with tourists killed 10 people and injured 15 others Tuesday morning, the Istanbul governor's office said. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Security members evacuate people from the area near the city's landmark Sultan Ahmed Mosque or Blue Mosque shortly after an explosion at Istanbul's historic Sultanahmet district, which is popular with tourists, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. The Istanbul governor's office said the explosion at the city's historic Sultanahmet district has killed least 10 people. A statement says 15 other people were injured in Tuesday's blast. The cause of the explosion is under investigation, but state-run TRT television says it was likely caused by a suicide bomber. (IHA via AP) TURKEY OUT
Policemen secure an area at the historic Sultanahmet district, which is popular with tourists, after an explosion in Istanbul, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. The private Dogan news agency says at least two people were hospitalized following an explosion in the historic center of Istanbul. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JANUARY 12: Ambulances and police were despatched to the blast site after an explosion in the central Istanbul Sultanahmet district on January 12, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. At least 10 people have been killed and 15 wounded in a suicide bombing near tourists in the central Istanbul historic Sultanahmet district, which is home to world-famous monuments including the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. Turkish President Erdogan has stated that the suicide bomber was of Syrian origin. (Photo by Can Erok/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JANUARY 12: Emergency services attend the scene after an explosion in the central Istanbul Sultanahmet district on January 12, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. At least 10 people have been killed and 15 wounded in a suicide bombing near tourists in the central Istanbul historic Sultanahmet district, which is home to world-famous monuments including the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. Turkish President Erdogan has stated that the suicide bomber was of Syrian origin. (Photo by Elif Sogut/Getty Images)
Policemen secure an area at the historic Sultanahmet district, which is popular with tourists, after an explosion in Istanbul, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. The private Dogan news agency says at least two people were hospitalized following an explosion in the historic center of Istanbul. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Turkish police cordon off the Blue Mosque area on January 12, 2016 after a blast in Istanbul's tourist hub of Sultanahmet left 10 people dead. Ten people were killed and 15 wounded in a suspected terrorist attack on January 12 in the main tourist hub of Turkey's largest city Istanbul, officials said. A powerful blast rocked the Sultanahmet neighbourhood which is home to Istanbul's biggest concentration of monuments and and is visited by tens of thousands of tourists every day. / AFP / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JANUARY 12: Ambulances gather around Sultanahmet tourist district after an explosion in Istanbul, Turkey on January 12, 2016. Turkish police have sealed off central Istanbul square in historic Sultanahmet district after the explosion was heard. Ambulances raced to the scene in the minutes after the explosion. (Photo by Veli Gurgah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Policemen search for evidence at the historic Sultanahmet district after an explosion in Istanbul, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. An explosion in a historic district of Istanbul popular with tourists killed 10 people and injured 15 others Tuesday morning, the Istanbul governor's office said. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Turkish security members stand near the city's landmark Sultan Ahmed Mosque or Blue Mosque after an explosion at Istanbul's historic Sultanahmet district, which is popular with tourists, on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. The cause of the explosion, which could be heard from several neighborhoods, was not immediately known but TRT said the blast was likely caused by a suicide bomber. Government officials immediately convened for a security meeting, the state-run station said. (IHA via AP) TURKEY OUT
Policemen secure the historic Sultanahmet district after an explosion in Istanbul, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. An explosion in a historic district of Istanbul popular with tourists killed 10 people and injured 15 others Tuesday morning, the Istanbul governor's office said. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JANUARY 12: Ambulances and police were despatched to the blast site after an explosion in the central Istanbul Sultanahmet district on January 12, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. At least 10 people have been killed and 15 wounded in a suicide bombing near tourists in the central Istanbul historic Sultanahmet district, which is home to world-famous monuments including the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. Turkish President Erdogan has stated that the suicide bomber was of Syrian origin. (Photo by Can Erok/Getty Images)
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Merkel similarly vowed no respite in the fight against international terrorism, telling a news conference in Berlin: "The terrorists are the enemies of all free people ... of all humanity, be it in Syria, Turkey, France or Germany."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Islamist, leftist and Kurdish militants, who are battling Ankara in southeast Turkey, have all carried out attacks in the past.

Several bodies lay on the ground in the square, also known as the Hippodrome of Constantinople, in the immediate aftermath of the blast. It was not densely packed at the time of the explosion, according to a police officer working there, but small groups of tourists had been wandering around.

"This incident has once again shown that as a nation we should act as one heart, one body in the fight against terror. Turkey's determined and principled stance in the fight against terrorism will continue to the end," President Tayyip Erdogan told a lunch for Turkish ambassadors in Ankara.

Norway's foreign ministry said one Norwegian man was injured and was being treated in hospital.

The White House condemned the "heinous attack" and pledged solidarity with NATO ally Turkey against terrorism. U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon said he hoped those responsible for "this despicable crime" were swiftly brought to justice.

Turkey, a candidate for accession to the European Union, is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State fighters who have seized territory in neighboring Syria and Iraq, some of it directly abutting Turkey.

"UNIMAGINABLE" SCENE

The dull thud of Tuesday's blast was heard in districts of Istanbul several kilometers away, residents said. Television footage showed a police car which appeared to have been overturned by the force of the blast.

"We heard a loud sound and I looked at the sky to see if it was raining because I thought it was thunder but the sky was clear," said Kuwaiti tourist Farah Zamani, 24, who was shopping at one of the covered bazaars with her father and sister.

Tourist sites including the Hagia Sophia and nearby Basilica Cistern were closed on the governor's orders, officials said.

"They attacked Sultanahmet to grab attention because this is what the world thinks of when it thinks of Turkey," said Kursat Yilmaz, who has operated tours for 25 years from an office by the square.

"We're not surprised this happened here, this has always been a possible target," he said.

Ambulances ferried away the wounded as police cordoned off streets. The sound of the call to prayer rang out from the Blue Mosque as forensic police officers worked at the scene.

"It was unimaginable," the police officer who had been working on the square said, describing an amateur video he had seen of the immediate aftermath, with six or seven bodies lying on the ground and other people seriously wounded.

Just over a year ago, a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a police station for tourists off the same square, killing one officer. That attack was initially claimed by a far-left group, the DHKP-C, but officials later said it had been carried out by a woman with suspected Islamist militant links.

TURKEY A TARGET

Turkey has become a target for Islamic State, with two bombings last year blamed on the radical Sunni Muslim group, in the town of Suruc near the Syrian border and in the capital Ankara, the latter killing more than 100 people.

Violence has also escalated in the mainly Kurdish southeast since a two-year ceasefire collapsed in July between the state and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, which has been fighting for three decades for Kurdish autonomy.

The PKK has however generally avoided attacking civilian targets in urban centers outside the southeast in recent years.

Turkey also sees a threat from the PYD and YPG, Kurdish groups in Syria which are fighting Islamic State with U.S. backing, but which Ankara says have close links to the PKK.

"For us, there is no difference between the PKK, PYD, YPG, DHKP-C ... or whatever their abbreviation may be. One terrorist organization is no different than the other," Erdogan said, vowing that Turkey's military campaign against Kurdish militants in the southeast would continue.

Davutoglu's office imposed a broadcasting ban on the blast, invoking a law which allows for such steps when there is the potential for serious harm to national security or public order.

The attack raised fears of further damage to Turkey's vital tourism industry, already hit by a diplomatic row with Moscow which has seen Russian tour operators cancel trips.

But Yilmaz, the tour operator, said he had sold a package to a tourist from Colombia just an hour after the blast.

"The reality is the world has grown accustomed to terrorism. It's unfortunate, and I wish it weren't true, but terrorism now happens everywhere," he said.

"The agenda changes quickly in this age. If tourism is affected by this, it will be temporary. These things pass, but the Hagia Sophia and the Sultanahmet mosque are eternal."

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