ISTANBUL – Twin attacks by a suicide bomber and a car bomber near an Istanbul soccer stadium Saturday night killed 29 people and wounded 166 others in the latest large-scale assault to traumatize a nation confronting an array of security threats.
The bombs targeted police officers, killing 27 of them along with two civilians, Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters early Sunday. He added that 10 people had been arrested in connection with the “terrorist attack.”
The civilian death toll was lower because fans had already left the newly built Vodafone Arena Stadium after the soccer match when the blasts occurred. Witnesses also heard gunfire after the explosions.
“We have once again witnessed tonight in Istanbul the ugly face of terror which tramples on every value and decency,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement.
The first bomb went off just outside the facility known popularly as Besiktas Stadium after the local team and neighborhood. The second blast that came moments later was attributed by authorities to a suicide bomber.
Police cordoned off the area as smoke rose from behind the stadium and ambulances began ferrying the wounded to hospitals. Glass from the blown-out windows of nearby buildings littered the pavement.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. This year, Istanbul has witnessed a spate of attacks attributed by authorities to the Islamic State group or claimed by Kurdish militants. A state of emergency is in force following a failed July 15 coup attempt.
Soylu acknowledged the country was struggling against “many elements” trying to compromise its fight against terrorism.
Turkey is a partner in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State and its armed forces are active in neighboring Syria and Iraq. It is also facing a renewed conflict with an outlawed Kurdish movement in the southeast.
Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said Washington condemns the attack in “the strongest terms.”
“We stand together with Turkey, our NATO Ally, against all terrorists who threaten Turkey, the United States, and global peace and stability,” Price said in a statement.
A taxi driver at the site of the Istanbul bombings said their force made him hit his head on the taximeter and that his ears were still ringing from the blasts and screaming that followed.
“Amid the screams I heard an officer saying ‘do not shout! Do not make them (the perpetrators) be satisfied,’ ” said Ismail Coskun.
The first and larger explosion took place about 7:30 p.m. GMT after the home team Besiktas beat visitor Bursaspor 2-1 in the Turkish Super League. Erdogan said the timing of the attack aimed to maximize the loss of life and vowed the nation would overcome terrorism.
Soylu said the first explosion was caused by a passing vehicle that detonated in an area where police special forces were located at the stadium exit right after the match. A riot police bus appears to have been the target.
Kurdish militants often target security forces while Islamic State-linked attacks have targeted tourists and the broader public.
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said a person who had been stopped in the nearby Macka Park committed suicide by triggering explosives.
Investigators, including Istanbul Police Chief Mustafa Caliskan, were quickly on the scene. Forensic experts in white uniforms scoured the vicinity of the stadium and the vast park where the suicide bombing took place.
The Besiktas sports club “strongly condemned” the attack and said an employee of one of its stores was among the fatalities, as well as a member of its congress who was also responsible for security at the stadium.
Bursaspor reported that none of the wounded were fans and issued a statement wishing “a speedy recovery to our wounded citizens.”
Health Minister Recep Akdag said six of the wounded remained in intensive care, with three of them in critical condition.
Aleksander Ceferin, president of European soccer’s governing body UEFA, and European Union Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, also made statements condemning the attack.
“Violence has no place in a democratic society,” Hahn wrote on Twitter.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini expressed the bloc’s “solidarity with Turkish citizens.”
The U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, meanwhile, urged its citizens to avoid the area which is also home to a Ritz Carlton hotel.
Turkey’s radio and television board issued a temporary coverage ban citing national security concerns. It said “to avoid broadcasts that can result in public fear, panic or chaos, or that will serve the aims of terrorist organizations.”
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