Four people were killed and 38 others injured on Sunday when an explosion rocked a busy pedestrian street in central Istanbul, prompting people to flee the fiery blast, according to the local governor and witnesses.
Ambulances rushed to the scene on busy Istiklal Avenue, which police quickly cordoned off. The area, in the Beyoglu district of Turkey’s largest city, was packed as usual over the weekend with shoppers, tourists and families.
State broadcaster TRT and state-run Anadolu Agency said the cause of the explosion is still unknown.
“Four people were killed and 38 others injured according to initial reports,” Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya said on Twitter, adding that the blast occurred at around 4:20 p.m. local time (1320 GMT).
A Reuters reporter saw a helicopter hovering overhead and several ambulances in nearby Taksim Square.
“When I heard the explosion, I was petrified, people froze, looking at each other. Then people started running away. What else can be done?” said Mehmet Akus, 45, a restaurant worker in istiklal.
“My relatives called me, they know I work in Istiklal. I reassured them,” he said.
The nearby Kasimpasa police station told Reuters that all teams were on the scene, but gave no further details.
Local media said crime inspectors were on the scene and Anadolu reported that the Istanbul prosecutor general’s office had launched an investigation into the blast.
While the cause of the explosion is unknown, Istanbul and other Turkish cities have been targeted by Kurdish separatists, Islamist militants and other groups in the past.
The Turkish Red Crescent said blood was being transferred to nearby hospitals.
Turkey’s RTUK regulator imposed a broadcast ban on coverage of the explosion around an hour after it occurred.
“My condolences to those who lost their lives in the explosion on Istiklal Avenue,” Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu said on Twitter. (Additional reporting and writing by Jonathan Spicer; editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Gareth Jones)