A suicide bomber that killed four people detonating an explosive vest in one of Istanbul's busiest streets deliberately targeted a group of Israelis, local media have reported as police hunted for three jihadi suspects allegedly planning further attacks. Security-camera footage appeared to indicate that the bomber, identified as 24-year-old Turkish citizen Mehmet Ozturk, trailed a party of Israeli tourists at length before blowing himself up next to them.
Dual American-Israeli citizens, Simha Damari, 60, from Dimona and Yonata Shor, 40, from Tel Aviv, were killed in the blast along with Israeli national Avraham Goldman, 69, from Herzliya, and Iranian Ali Reza Khalman, 31. Of the 36 injured, 11 were Israelis on a culinary trip to the metropolis on the Bosporus.
According to Turkish newspaper Haberturk, CCTV images showed Ozturk following the group from their hotel to a restaurant in the landmark Istiklal Street. He then waited outside for them to leave before setting off the device. "He just exploded on us," group member Naama Peled said of the attacker speaking from her hospital bed to Hebrew-language Walla website just after the blast.
Located near the central Taksim square, with its many shops, cafes and restaurants, Istiklal Avenue is typically crowed with tourists and locals on weekends. Another 13 foreign nationals, including Irish and Germans, were wounded.
Israeli officials initially said there were not enough elements to say the bomber intentionally targeted Israelis. "We don't have intelligence that this attack was directed against Israelis," Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Army Radio. "It is too early to tell if this was accidentally hitting Israelis or if it was directed at Israelis who left a restaurant."
The Turkish government said Ozturk, from the southern Gaziantep province bordering Syria, had links to the Islamic State (Isis) group. Meanwhile, on 21 March authorities said they were hunting for three more IS militants that allegedly planned a "sensational" attack in the country.
Anadolu news agency identified the trio as Haci Ali Durmaz, Yunus Durmaz and Savas Yildiz – all members of the same Gaziantep-based jihadi cell. The search came after a football match between Istanbul's teams Galatasaray and Fenerbahce scheduled on 20 March was postponed over a terror threat.