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Istanbul bombings kill 15

A square filled with strolling families and other pedestrians is targeted. More than 150 people are injured.

July 28, 2008|Yesim Comert and Laura King | Special to The Times

ISTANBUL, TURKEY — Two explosions tore through a crowded plaza in a working-class neighborhood of Istanbul on Sunday evening, killing at least 15 people and injuring several dozen others in what authorities declared a terrorist attack.

The blasts occurred in the Gungoren neighborhood, a slightly run-down district of shops and apartment blocks well away from the city's best-known tourist sites. The first bomb was planted in either a trash can or a phone booth, according to several reports.

The second, more powerful blast occurred about 10 minutes later and appeared timed to target onlookers and those who rushed to the rescue.

The site of the attacks was a square closed to vehicle traffic. Many people, including families with children, were out strolling on the warm summer evening when the bombs went off.

"There is no doubt that this is a terror attack," Istanbul Gov. Muammer Guler said. "The fact that the area was crowded at the time certainly increased the number of casualties."

The governor's office later reported that 154 people had been injured, 15 of them critically.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings, though the all-news channel CNN-Turk reported that police suspected militant Kurdish separatists. Turkey's military has been launching air raids on suspected Kurdish guerrilla strongholds in the country's southeast and across the frontier in northern Iraq, including a strike carried out hours before the bombings.

Kurdish rebels mainly target Turkish soldiers, though they sometimes strike in towns and cities as well.

Angry residents hung large Turkish flags from windows and balconies in the aftermath of the attack, suggesting that they held Kurdish separatists responsible. But Deputy Prime Minister Hayati Yazici told reporters at the scene it was not known who set off the bombs.

Turkey has endured a spate of terrorist attacks in recent years from Kurdish and Islamic militants. Sunday's bombs were the second significant attack this month in the country's largest city.

On July 9, three gunmen tried to storm the U.S. Consulate on Istanbul's outskirts. They were killed in the operation, along with three police officers. Authorities are investigating whether the attackers had links to Al Qaeda.

Sunday's bombings left greater carnage. Turkish television channels showed images of dazed victims calling for help and civilian rescuers using blankets as makeshift stretchers to carry the wounded to ambulances. The ground was strewn with broken glass, debris and bloodied shoes, some of them child-sized.

"With the first [explosion], not much happened," a young man who witnessed the bombings told CNN-Turk.

"But with the second, all hell broke loose, and there was blood everywhere."

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laura.king@latimes.com

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Special correspondent Comert reported from Istanbul and Times staff writer King from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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