It was early Saturday morning in Istanbul when a blast went through the air. We were out by the popular Sultanahmet square which is at the center of the historic part of Istanbul. I was with friends from Croatia and my good Turkish friend Ozzy (Uzman). Ozzy worked at the hostel we were staying at and we were giving a tour to our friends from Croatia. I had been in Instanbul for weeks and after getting familiar with all the sights, I would go with Ozzy and show Istanbul to the new friends that would arrive at the hostel. Below, here we are with the Croatian group around the same time that the explosion happened with Ozzy on the far left.
It was a cloudy morning but I knew something was very wrong when Ozzy got a call. It was a suicide bombing on a popular tourist spot. In fact, we had been there just hours ago.
Because it’s usually packed with tourists, the attack had occurred here on Istiklal street and there were several people killed and injured. However since this attack was early on Saturday morning, the street was mostly empty and a lot of shops were still closed.
Istanbul has 15 million people -about twice of New York City- and so the streets are usually full of pedestrians at all hours of the day. On weekends it’s especially packed and even during the week it’s quite busy. The modern shops and sights are an attraction to locals and tourists and it has the famous red tram that runs up and down the street. Whenever there are paintings made of Istanbul, this cute red tram is often a symbol of the city.
Anyhow, the attacker was apparently targeting a group of Israeli tourists but got scared off when he was noticed by security personnel. Then he exploded his suicide vest killing all who were near him.
See how packed it is? And this is on a week night, not even a weekend. Fortunately of all times of the week, Saturday morning is the time when it’s the least busy, as everyone has stayed up late on Friday night to party. Another factor was that the attacker wasn’t near a big crowd so the impact was minimal. If he had attacked on a Friday night or Saturday night it would’ve been even more devastating.
Still he managed to injure and kill several people. You can see how he blew out a shop and even some second story windows were blown out.
Even though we were a safe distance away, we were able to see the aftermath. The police quickly closed off the area and the whole street was closed off for a two days. The Turkish government shut down Facebook and Twitter so that people were not able to post photos or communicate at all through these mediums. They do this after every suicide attack to minimize the public relations damage. After two days, it was back to everyday life except for a hastily built memorial at ground zero.
Even with this experience, I would still go back to Istanbul as I think it’s quite safe. You probably have more chances of dying in a car accident or getting struck by lightning than by a suicide bomber or terrorist attack here. It’s an amazing place and I would go back to for sure :)
Seeing the security footage of the bomber I was so surprised at seeing how normal this guy looked. He was wearing a light jacket, but it didn’t bulge out at all like the ones you see in the movies. There is no way you could tell he was wearing a suicide vest. And then bam, big fireball with the unfortunate people that were walking near him crumpled on the floor. That was sad to see. An investigation concluded that he was an ISIS militant.