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Istanbul suicide bomber was IS member: Turkish PM

Tourists hold umbrellas to shelter from the rain in the central square inside the Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultan Ahmed, in Istanbul, Turkey, on Friday, June 14, 2013
Photographer | Collection | Getty Images

The suicide bomber who killed at least 10 foreigners in the heart of Istanbul's historic tourist district on Tuesday, most of them German, was a foreign member of Islamic State, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

Davutoglu said all of those killed in the attack were foreigners and that he had spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to express condolences. Most of those wounded were also German, he said.

Speaking in Ankara in comment broadcast on television, Davutoglu vowed that Turkey would find those linked to the bomber and punish them and said that its fight against Islamic State would continue.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus also said Tuesday that the bomber is thought to have recently crossed into Turkey from Syria.

The explosion in the heart of Istanbul's historic Sultanahmet tourist district also wounded 15.

Several bodies lay on the ground in the Sultanahmet square, close to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, a major tourist area of Turkey's most populous city. A police officer and witness at the scene reported also seeing several bodies and body parts.

The attack at the heart of one of the world's most visited cities comes as Turkey battles Kurdish militants in its southeast and Islamic State insurgents just across its southern borders in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told media that a Syrian suicide bomber was believed to be responsible for the blast, Reuters reported.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Kurdish, leftist and Islamist militants have all carried out attacks in Turkey in the past.

The Istanbul governor's office said the authorities were investigating the type of explosive used and who might have been responsible. It said ten people were killed and 15 wounded but gave no further details.

"We heard a loud sound and I looked at the sky to see if it was raining because I thought it was thunder but the sky was clear," said Kuwaiti tourist Farah Zamani, 24, who was shopping at one of the covered bazaars with her father and sister.

Turkey's AHaber television said the blast may have been caused by a suicide bomber but this was not independently confirmed. Ambulances rushed to the scene, ferrying away the wounded as police cordoned off streets, fearing a second attack.

"The explosion was very loud. We shook a lot. We ran out and saw body parts," one woman who works at a nearby antiques store told Reuters, declining to give her name.

Terror link suspected

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu held an emergency meeting in Ankara with the interior minister and security chiefs. A senior official said "terrorist links" were suspected in the attack, but declined to comment further.

Just over a year ago, a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a police station for tourists off the same square, killing one officer and wounding another. That attack was initially claimed by a far-left group, but officials later said it had been perpetrated by a woman with suspected Islamist militant links.

Turkey has become a target for Islamic State, with two bombings last year blamed on the radical Sunni Muslim group, in the town of Suruc near the Syrian border and in the capital Ankara, the latter killing more than 100 people.

Violence has also escalated in the mainly Kurdish southeast since a two-year ceasefire collapsed in July between the state and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, which has been fighting for three decades for Kurdish autonomy.

The PKK has however generally avoided attacking civilian targets in urban centres outside the southeast in recent years.

"Ambulances started rushing in and I knew it was a bomb right away because the same thing happened here last year," said Ali Ibrahim Peltek, 40, who operates a kiosk selling snacks and drinks on the square.

"This is not good for Turkey but everyone was expecting a terrorist attack," he said.

Davutoglu's office imposed a broadcasting ban on the blast, invoking a law which allows for such steps when there is the potential for serious harm to national security or public order.

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