So what now for Istanbul as Turkey’s most populous and popular destination for tourists and business travellers?
Ten are reported dead and scores have been wounded, some seriously, in an attack in Sultanahmet, the symbolic heart of Istanbul’s tourism industry. Police cordoned off much of the area as ambulance crews attended to victims who included visitors from Germany, Russia, Norway, Peru and South Korea, according to initial media reports.
As police cordoned off large areas, journalists reported that they were not permitted to take photos or record footage in the area while unconfirmed reports of a media and broadcasting blackout has heightened confusion in the city and led to some blaming security authorities of ignoring the risk of a second detonation or attack, as has previously been the case of the twin blasts in Ankara last October that killed 102 civilians.
Following the blast, Germany’s Foreign Ministry issued an advisory for visitors to Turkey, saying they should avoid crowded areas including public squares near tourist attractions. The UK’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told Parliament this morning that the government is still verifying whether British nationals were caught up in the attack. Other embassies are sure to issue other statements on the fluidity of the security in the city as the day passes. Meanwhile, news is sought on the perpetrators of the crime, though the state has already immediately attributed the acts to a Syrian suicide bomber linked with the Islamic State.
While this hypothesis seems entirely reasonable given the regional situation and Turkey’s role in the Syrian and Islamic State situation, other governments are yet to be so definitive, waiting for a group to claim responsibility or secure information that outs the bombers from some other source.
Sultanahmet Square is on the site of an ancient hippodrome and is the original seat of power of the Ottoman Empire. The area is home to a collection of monuments that appear on UNESCO’s World Heritage List which are crucial to the country’s tourism industry and account for nearly 5% of GDP. As the world’s 5th most visited city, Istanbul is sure to be impacted by these events.
If the initial claims of Islamic State involvement are proven to be true, then Turkey faces some tough choices in its role and its concessions to forces fighting its jihadist neighbours. In 2015 Turkey agreed to take a more active role in the US-led campaign against Islamic State by carrying out air strikes in Syria. It has also permitted US warplanes to strike Islamic State targets from its base in Incirlik.
In the meantime, tourists in Istanbul are being encouraged to make contact with friends and family and avoid large crowds and tourist attractions. The German authorities have also warned that further violent clashes and terrorist attacks were expected across Turkey, indicating that intelligence exists to make this a potentially deadly time to be in Turkey.