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Deadly Explosion Rocks Istanbul's Sultanahmet Square


Let's go right to Istanbul now. There was a deadly explosion there this morning. It happened one of Turkey's most famous tourist neighborhoods, not far from the Blue Mosque. Turkish officials say the death toll as of right now stands at 10. NPR's Peter Kenyon went to the area of the explosion shortly after it occurred, and he joins us on the line. And Peter, just tell us what we know at this point.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, this morning I was at home, and I heard the explosion. I didn't recognize it for an explosion at the time. It's a really windy, blustery day here, and at first I thought something big had toppled over. But quickly the news spread from Sultanahmet - that's the neighborhood where all the tourist landmarks are, and that's where it happened. I got to the scene. The police had cordoned off the blast site. But evidence was showing up hundreds of yards away. A shop owner - restaurant worker - told - showed me some shrapnel that had landed at his feet at least 200 yards from the scene. And then I ran into Johnny Green. He's a Briton who says he'd stepped out of the Blue Mosque with two friends seconds before the blast happened. Here's how he described the moment of the blast.

JOHNNY GREEN: We'd come out of the Blue Mosque and we were walking onto this boulevard. We were just on the corner - just out of sight - so we heard it rather than saw. Then people were just, you know, running in every direction. Some people were running towards the action to help, and other people were just fleeing. So it was very much that, and we were sort of caught between a rock and a hard place.

KENYON: Green is actually a photojournalist. He was on his way to Africa on another project and decided just to stop in and see the mosque during his layover. He told his two friends, well, we'll certainly remember this stopover.

GREENE: Yeah, I can imagine. And this is an area, would you say, Peter, where there are a lot of Western tourists gathered quite often. I mean, it makes me wonder if tourists - if Westerners - might have been targeted, and of course, also who was responsible here.

KENYON: Yeah, this is the heart of Istanbul's very busy tourist sector - the Blue Mosque, the Haga Sophia, Topkapi Palace. It's always got tourists around - less in January than July, but still. And in terms of responsibility, there's no claim. Past attacks - there was a double suicide bombing in Ankara blamed on a Turk and a Syrian who had both been influenced by ISIS, we're told. There was an explosion at the second airport here in Istanbul. There have been some questions of whether that was Kurdish related. But basically, folks here in Istanbul have been on edge for weeks, wondering if something was going to blow up here.

GREENE: All right, we'll be following this closely. That's NPR's Peter Kenyon speaking to us from Istanbul where an explosion at a popular tourist area has killed at least 10 people. Peter, thank you.

KENYON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.