ISTANBUL (AP) — Two bombs exploded outside a major soccer stadium in Istanbul after fans had gone home Saturday night, killing 29 people and wounding 166, a Turkish official said, citing health ministry figures. One of the blasts was thought to be a suicide bomber.
Police cordoned off the area as smoke rose from behind the newly built Vodafone Arena Stadium, known colloquially as Besiktas Stadium after the local team. Witnesses also heard gunfire after the explosions. The second blast was thought to be a car bomb.
“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 official who gave the toll of 29 dead and 166 wounded spoke on condition anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly on the issue. He cited health ministry figures.
The first and larger explosion took place about 10:30 p.m. 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.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. This year, Istanbul has witnessed bombings 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.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, who gave an initial wounded toll of 20 police officers, rushed from Ankara to Istanbul.
“It is thought to be a car bomb at a point where our special forces police were located, right after the match at the exit where Bursaspor fans” had earlier left, Soylu was quoted as saying by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.
Speaking later to reporters in Istanbul, he said the first explosion took place on a hill adjacent to and overlooking the stadium. The second explosion struck Macka Park and was believed to be a suicide bomb.
The private NTV channel reported that the target of the first attack was a bus for riot police and said nearly 70 wounded were taken to hospitals.
Television images showed more than a dozen ambulances on a street hugging the stadium and a police helicopter flying overhead with its searchlights on. The window glass of nearby buildings was shattered by the blasts and coated the pavement. Investigators, including Istanbul Police Chief Mustafa Caliskan, were quickly on the scene.
Taxi driver Ismail Coskun said the force of the explosion caused him to hit his head on the taximeter and that his ears were still ringing from the blast and screaming that followed.
“Amid the screams I heard an officer saying ‘do not shout! Do not make them (the perpetrators) be satisfied,” he told The AP.
The Besiktas sports club “strongly condemned” the attack in a statement posted on its website while Bursaspor reported that none of the wounded were fans and issued a statement wishing “a speedy recovery to our wounded citizens.”
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.
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.”
The twin Saturday night bombings inflicted high casualties among police, killing 27 officers, as well as 2 civilians.
In a address early Sunday, the minister said 10 people had been arrested in connection with the attacks.
Cinar Kiper in Istanbul and Rob Harris in London contributed reporting.