A strong explosion of unknown origin shook the busy İstiklal shopping street in İstanbul on Sunday, leaving at least six people dead and wounding dozens more, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Agence France-Presse.
Police cordoned off the area, where crowds were dense on Sunday afternoon, and helicopters were flying over the city center as sirens were sounding.
“I was 50-55 meters away, and suddenly I heard an explosion. I saw three or four people on the ground,” witness Cemal Denizci, 57, told AFP.
“People were running in panic. The noise was huge. There was black smoke. The noise was so strong, it was almost deafening,” he said.
Parents swept their children up into their arms as they fled the area.
İstanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya tweeted that four people died and 38 were wounded according to preliminary information. Later reports put the death toll at six and the number of injured at 53.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday condemned the “vile attack” on İstiklal Street and said efforts were under way to identify the perpetrators.
“[We’re working] to find the perpetrators … behind this vile attack,” Erdogan told a televised press conference.
He also said initial signs pointed to a terrorist attack.
“It might be wrong if we say for sure that this was terrorism, but according to first signs … there is the smell of terror there,” Erdoğan said.
“The attempt to take over Turkey … through terrorism will not be successful either today or tomorrow,” he added.
According to an AFP video journalist on the scene, the police have established a large security cordon to prevent access to the damaged area for fear of a second explosion.
A massive deployment of security forces barred all entrances, while a large number of rescue workers and police officers were visible.
The explosion occurred shortly after 4:00 pm in the famous İstiklal shopping street, which is popular with locals and tourists alike.
According to images posted on social media at the time of the explosion, it was accompanied by flames and immediately triggered panic, with people running in all directions.
A large black crater was also visible in those images, as well as several bodies lying on the ground nearby.
İstiklal Street had already been hit in the past during a campaign of attacks in 2015-2016 that targeted Istanbul.
Claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), those attacks killed nearly 500 people and injured more than 2,000.