Explosion strikes near sports stadium in Istanbul

Istanbul Car Bomb Blast

Istanbul Car Bomb Blast

A suspected car bomb outside a soccer stadium in central Istanbul wounded around 20 people on Saturday, hours after the end of a match between two of Turkey’s top teams, in what appeared to be an attack targeting riot police.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, speaking in parliament during a budget hearing, said around 20 people had been wounded, many of them police officers, and that initial indications were that a car bomb targeting a police bus was responsible.

Two witnesses told Reuters they had heard two blasts outside the Vodafone Arena, which lies on the edge of the Bosphorus in central Istanbul and is home to the Besiktas soccer team. A Reuters photographer said many riot police officers were seriously wounded.

“It was like hell. The flames went all the way up to the sky. I was drinking tea at the cafe next to the mosque,” said Omer Yilmaz, who works as a cleaner at the nearby Dolmabahce mosque.

“People ducked under the tables, women began crying. Football fans drinking tea at the cafe sought shelter, it was horrible,” he told Reuters.

Armed police sealed off streets around the stadium. A police water cannon doused the wreckage of a burned out car and there were two separate fires on the road outside the building.

Broadcaster NTV said the explosion targeted a police vehicle that was leaving the stadium after fans had already dispersed.

“I condemn the cruel terror attack in Istanbul. Those attacking our nation’s unity and solidarity will never win,” Sports Minister Akif Cagatay Kilic said on Twitter. Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan also described it as a terrorist attack.

President Tayyip Erdogan, who was in Istanbul at the time of the explosion, had been in contact with the chief of Istanbul police and the prime minister and was following developments closely, sources in his office said.

Turkey has been hit by a series of bombings in recent years, some blamed on Islamic State militants, others claimed by Kurdish and far-leftist militant groups.