Update: The terror attack in Istanbul claims 44 lives

 At least 166 people wounded after two separate blasts in Istanbul near Besiktas football stadium, a day of national mourning declared

 At least 44 people, including more than 30 police officers, were martyred in two separate bomb attacks in the Besiktas district of Istanbul, the country’s interior minister said early Sunday.

Two police chiefs were among the deceased and at least 166 people were injured, Suleyman Soylu told reporters in Istanbul.

Ten suspects have been detained as part of an ongoing probe, he added.

Health Minister Recep Akdag said 20 of the injured have been discharged from hospital while 17 are in surgery, and six are in intensive care units, three of them in critical condition.

Two blasts rocked the city, a car bomb followed within the minute by a suicide bomb, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus explained.

Turkish Prime Ministry said in a statement, a day of national mourning has been declared on Sunday.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the attack targeted police and civilians alike, and sought to cause the most casualties.

“When Turkey takes a positive step towards the future, the response comes immediately in the form of blood, loss of life, brutality, and chaos by terrorist organizations,” Erdogan said.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim earlier said the government would dedicate every resource possible to thoroughly investigate the “vile attack”.

“The murderers who ambush life, peace, and happiness will not defeat the integrity of the state and the nation. They will not be able to divert Turkey from the path of democracy and law,” Yildirim said.

The explosion occurred two hours after a Turkish football league match between Besiktas and Bursaspor at the Vodafone Arena.

Nihat Yildiz, who saw the blast, told Anadolu Agency he heard two explosions within one minute of each other.

“We saw a huge flame along with the blast. The windows of the restaurant broke into pieces with the pressure of the explosion. Then we heard gunfire for two minutes,” he said.

Another witness, Abdullah Cavus, a Bursaspor fan, said the blast happened right after buses carrying fans moved from the scene.

International reaction to the terror attack

The American embassy took to Twitter to denounce the attack. “We condemn tonight’s cowardly attack, and salute the courage of the Turkish people as we stand with them against terror,” it said.

In Washington, the White House condemned the attack “in the strongest terms”, and pledged solidarity.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, their families and loved ones, and to all the people of Turkey,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. ” We stand together with Turkey, our NATO Ally, against all terrorists who threaten Turkey, the United States, and global peace and stability.​”

President of the European Parliament posted a comment on social media. “My thoughts & solidarity with Turkish citizens, with families of victims of Istanbul attack. I wish speedy and full recovery to the injured,” Martin Schulz said.

A spokesman for Council of Europe Secretary General said Ankara would find support from Europe. “Turkey can rely on the solidarity and support of European governments and the Council of Europe after today’s Istanbul terrorist attack,” Daniel Holtgen said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned the attack, calling it as “horrific acts of terror.” He stressed that NATO stands united in solidarity with its ally Turkey. “We remain determined to fight terrorism in all its forms,” he added.

UK Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Boris Johnson said that “UK committed to working with Turkey to tackle terrorism,” adding that his thoughts are with all those affected.

Besides, German Chancellor Angela Merkel “expresses her sympathies to President Erdogan and the Turkish people following this despicable terrorist attack,” her spokesman Steffen Seibert wrote on Twitter.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault offered his condolences to the families of the victims following “this odious act”, adding: “In the face of the scourge of terrorism, France remains on Turkey’s side.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at his Cabinet meeting Sunday that “Israel condemns any terror in Turkey, and Israel expects Turkey to condemn any act of terror in Israel. The battle against terror must be mutual.”

Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said Washington condemns the attack in “the strongest terms.”


PKK offshoot TAK claims responsibility for terror attack

“Two of our comrades were heroically martyred in the attack,” the statement read. It said the attack was reprisal for state violence in the south-east and the ongoing imprisonment of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ party, or PKK. Authorities consider TAK to be a PKK offshoot.

Officials had earlier said initial signs pointed to the involvement of the PKK in the bombings. “The arrows point at the PKK. It is clearly a planned event. There will be an announcement once the investigations are over. We cannot say anything definite for now,” said Numan Kurtulmuş, the deputy prime minister.

The PKK, a separatist party that has been battling against the Turkish state for decades and is listed as a terrorist organisation in the US, has been implicated in several recent attacks across the country.

Tensions have risen steadily over the past 18 months after the collapse of peace talks between the government and the PKK, which the authorities accused of rearming in secret. Curfews and fighting in the predominantly Kurdish south-east of the country ensued.

Ankara is also concerned about Kurdish ambitions across the border in Syria, where PKK’s affiliate the People’s Protection Units (YPG) has expanded the territory under its control with US backing by seizing areas from Islamic State.

Those fears prompted Turkey to intervene militarily in Syria, sending in commandos and tanks to support Syrian rebels fighting Isis near the border. With Turkish aid, the rebels seized the Isis border town of Jarabulus and advanced south towards al-Bab, a town north of Aleppo.

The move has blocked a plan for Kurdish control of a wide stretch of territory in northern Syria, but has further increased tensions with the Kurds and their American allies.

In recent weeks, the Turkish government has also arrested a number of top Kurdish parliamentarians that it accuses of fomenting PKK propaganda, a step considered by observers as effectively killing off the peace process. They include Selahattin Demirtaş, whose People’s Democratic party (HDP) has drawn together an alliance of leftists, youth and Kurdish activists and has been nicknamed the “Turkish Obama”.

Though the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) of Erdoğan was the first to begin secret peace negotiations with the PKK and break the taboo surrounding the lifting of restrictions on the Kurdish language, it has more recently drifted towards an alliance with the country’s nationalists, who have adopted a hard line on negotiations.

Saturday’s attacks are likely to increase the tension and fear of instability that have endured since an attempted coup in July shook the country.