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Deadly Istanbul attack sparks fear and defiance in Turkey

The explosion, which killed six people and injured 81, revives grim memories of a series of attacks between 2015 and 2017.

Istanbul, Turkey – Crowds began returning to Istiklal Avenue, the busy pedestrian street in central Istanbul where a bomb attack on Sunday killed six people and injured 81. Locals expressed shock and defiance after the attack.

Furkan works in a chocolate shop a few steps from where the bomb went off.

“Around 4:20 p.m. [13:20 GMT] we were smoking a cigarette by the door,” he told Al Jazeera. “Suddenly, the explosion happened. We were amazed. It was a terrifying situation.”

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He said a crowd quickly formed in the area and he was concerned about the possibility of a second bomb going off. The store closed for the rest of the day, but he returned to work on Monday.

The police had closed all the entrances to Istiklal after the explosion. The street was reopened on Monday, although police temporarily blocked the main entrance until 3:45 p.m. local time (1235 GMT) while politicians visited the site of the explosion, where flowers had been laid in memory of the victims. Istiklal was fringed with Turkish flags, as late as 1200, according to some accounts.

The blast killed a nine-year-old girl and her father, a teenage boy and his mother, and a married couple. They were all Turkish citizens.

On Monday, authorities said 57 injured people had been released after treatment, while 24 injured, including two people in critical condition, remained in hospital.

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Istiklal had a heavy police presence and was not as lively as usual on Monday, but nevertheless there were plenty of pedestrians walking on the street.

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Metincan Alkan, 30, works at Marlen, a bar in an alleyway not far from where the explosion occurred. She said that businesses in the district will be hit hard after the attack.

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“People will start again [stay] far from Beyoglu,” he said. “I mean, it’s bad for us from every angle.”

Mustafa Topcuoglu, 53, is an Istiklal Avenue fixture known for his icli kofte – Bulgarian wheat bags stuffed with spiced meat – which he sells at a small street stall just minutes from where the explosion occurred.

He told Al Jazeera that he was upstairs in his adjacent restaurant and heard the explosion, but returned to his post on Monday afternoon.

“The purpose of terrorism is to scare people, create an air of panic and keep them locked in their homes,” Topcuoglu said. “Whatever happens, we still arrive, we are at work, we continue with our work and we open again.”

Relatives and friends of Arzu Ozsoy and his daughter Yagmur Ucar, 15, who died in the explosion on Sunday
Relatives and friends of Arzu Ozsoy and his 15-year-old daughter Yagmur Ucar, who were killed in the blast on Sunday, attend their funeral in Istanbul. [Emrah Gurel/AP Photo]

The person suspected of planting the bank bomb, a Syrian woman named Ahlam Albasir, was arrested in the Istanbul suburb of Kucukcekmece early Monday. At least 46 people had been detained in connection with the attack in the early afternoon.

According to media reports, the Istanbul Police Department said Albasir had confessed to ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Syrian affiliate, the People’s Defense Units (YPG).

However, in statements on Monday, the PKK and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up mostly of YPG fighters, denied responsibility for the attack.

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The blast has revived grim memories of a series of attacks carried out by PKK-connected groups and ISIL (ISIS) across Turkey between 2015 and 2017. In March 2016, an ISIL-linked suicide bomber killed four people in Istiklal avenue.

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Soner Cagaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute, told Al Jazeera that more violence is likely to influence Turkey’s parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for June.

“This is quite a concerning development, and we will have to wait and see who is behind it and if there is any group that will take responsibility,” he said.

“This attack, if followed by others, could result in the electorate turning to the right and consolidating around the security candidate,” Cagaptay said. “This is what happened the last time Turkey suffered a series of terrorist attacks in 2015.”

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