The residents of Istanbul are mourning those killed in a suicide bombing over the weekend, while at the same time trying to return to normal life. Anna Lekas Miller reports from Istanbul.
Turkish flags are draped over a pile of red and white flowers in the exact spot where a suicide bomber detonated himself just a little over 48 hours ago, killing four tourists and injuring 39 others on Istiklal Boulevard in Istanbul.
"I can't believe it happened right here," said Asil, a 29-year-old lawyer who works in the area, stopping to pay her respects at the makeshift memorial on the way to her office Monday morning.
"I walk this street, right here, every day on my way to work," she said.
The attack happened at approximately 11 a.m. 80900 UTC) on Saturday morning, typically a quiet time for the usually bustling boulevard, popular among both tourists and locals for shopping and eating. Once the site was cleared, and the streets were reopened, citizens began to gather at the site of the bombing, placing bouquets of flowers, small candles, and signs in several languages condemning terrorism, and paying respect to the victims by showing solidarity with Istanbul, and Turkey.
In French one sign reads, "A few months ago, we were Paris. Today we are Istanbul."
In Turkish, "We are not afraid. We will not get used to this. We will not be silent."
'IS' or PKK?
Many had been warned to be on high alert over the weekend, with security concerns surrounding Sunday's celebrations of Newroz, the Kurdish new year, during an escalation of violence in southeastern Turkey. However, the bomber was later identified as Turkish-born Mehmet Ozturk, who was revealed to have affiliations with the "Islamic State" (IS), rather than the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as many had initially suspected.
"The findings show that the terrorist is linked to the Daesh terrorist organization," Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala announced at a press conference on Sunday, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
"We are still considering with great sensitivity other connects or forces behind this," he continued, likely referencing a string of PKK attacks that have hit the capital, Ankara, twice since the beginning of the year, as well as cities throughout the southeast, marking 2016 as one of the worst years for terrorism in Turkey's history. In addition to the escalation of violence from the PKK, there is also evidence of a growing network of IS supporters inside of Turkey.
"The fight against terror will continue," the minister said in his address.
An eerie sense of silence
In the hours after the bombing, an eerie silence replaced the usual chaos of Istanbul. Istiklal, a popular shopping street filled with chain stores and touristic cafes, was closed by the police as the forensics investigation continued. Though public transportation remained operational, many avoided the metro and ferry systems, which are viewed as potential terror targets. The traffic that ordinarily chokes Istanbul at hours well beyond the typical rush-hour block, making it nearly impossible to reach any destination in a timely manner, was virtually non-existent.
As night fell, the bars and nightclubs of Taksim - located off of Istiklal, and notorious for blasting music and sending customers onto the streets at every hour of the night - were open for business, but remained largely empty.
"We were hoping that some people might come out, to show they aren't afraid," Ozan, a manager and bartender at a popular local bar in the nearby Cihangir district said, as he looked over his oddly deserted venue, normally crammed with customers at this time.
"But I don't think they are ready yet."
Back to business
By Monday morning, shopkeepers on Istiklal were cautiously opening their stores, hoping to return quickly to business as usual. While some reported employees staying home from work, or parents choosing to keep their children home from school, across the street from the bomb site itself, employees were eager to resume normality.
After the bombing, many hid in the shop, protected by a metal barricade, waiting to evacuate the area.
"But I had work today, and we can't avoid living our lives forever," he continued. "We won't live our lives in the shadows."