An attack on one of Turkey's most beloved cities has left tourists shaken and raised questions about new targets of terrorism. Anna Lekas Miller reports from Istanbul.
Twenty-four hours after a suicide bomber detonated himself in the heart of Istanbul's tourism district, there is little immediate indication that anything traumatic happened—save for an abnormal amount of news cameras perched around the fountain separating the Sultanahmet "Blue" Mosque from the Hagia Sophia.
However, few details have emerged, although the temporary broadcast ban implemented on Tuesday is still intact. Rather than Syrian—as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan posited during a lunch time address yesterday—it has been confirmed that the bomber Nail al-Fadli is actually Saudi-born. It is suspected that he is a member of "Islamic State" ("IS"), and, after spending time inside of Syria, crossed into Turkey via the porous southern border. According to Turkish media sources, photographs of al-Fadli from one week ago have surfaced, suggesting that he was being monitored by authorities before the attacks.
"It shows that there is still an Islamic State network inside of Turkey, that these men are able to take advantage of when they are transiting from Syria to Turkey, and then trying to get to other places within Turkey," Atlantic Council Senior Researcher Aaron Stein told Deutsche Welle. "It also shows how difficult it is track these people, and to know the exact backgrounds within this huge flux of people."
Since the attacks, Turkish authorities have detained 68, including three Russian nationals suspected of having ties to IS in the coastal cities of Antalya and Izmir. However, whether or not this was in response to the attacks or a routine ISIS raid remains unconfirmed.
Late Wednesday morning, a few tourists are cautiously walking around the square. A street vendor tries to sell his simit, a warm Turkish breakfast pastry, to a small number of clientele while a tour group organizer attempts to convince tourists to join him for a discounted boat ride on the Bosphorus.
"Fifty percent off!," he says, attempting to bargain with an English couple. "It is safer to be on the water if you are worried about attacks at the tourist places."
However, the English couple he is soliciting is more phased by the hustling, than the threat of terrorism.
"I heard about the attack when I stepped off the plane yesterday," said Mark, a 57 year old from Leeds. "I suppose we're a little shook up, but we're more worried about the price of things, and getting lost."
Istanbul is the fifth most visited city in the world, and the third most visited in Europe—only after Paris and London. However, many working in its tourism and hospitality industry—which makes up 12 percent of Turkey's GDP, are anxious about the industry's future.
"We have received a lot of cancellations since yesterday," Asli, a receptionist at a hotel in the popular tourist district tells DW. "I'm afraid I might lose the job."
The death of vacationers on Tuesday has raised new fears about the impact of terrorism - already on the rise - on the lucrative tourism industry
Were Germans Targeted?
While the line to the Hagia Sophia normally snakes through the square, routinely causing tourists to wait for hours on end to enter the historic mosque, today there is only a handful of people waiting.
"It's so tragic what happened yesterday—both for those that lost their lives, and the city that so many of us [Germans] love to enjoy." Joanna, a 26-year-old musician from outside of Berlin, and tourist to Istanbul told DW outside the mosque.
Several have questioned whether German nationals—who made up at least eight of the ten reported dead after the attacks, and constitute the highest percentage of foreign tourists in Turkey—were specifically targeted during the attacks.
"That area of Sultanahmet is popular with all sorts of tourists," Atlantic Council Senior Researcher Aaron Stein told DW. "I don't think any one group was targeted outside of foreigners in general. I would say that a German tour group got extremely unlucky yesterday."
Berlin issued a travel warning urging all German nationals to avoid crowds and tourist sites in Istanbul.
A Different Set of Concerns
Nearby, a group of Syrian girls posed with their selfie stick. Nour, a 27 year old originally from Homs, Syria—now living in the south of Turkey, and visiting Istanbul for a few days—has a different set of concerns.
"We are happy and having a great time in Istanbul," she tells DW. "But I'm afraid that this is going to reflect badly on Syrians. It wasn't even a Syrian who made the attack, but most people don't know that."
Since the attack, Syrians living throughout Turkey—which hosts the highest numbers of Syrian refugees in the Middle East—have experienced greater travel restrictions than normal in a policy enforcement that, though unconfirmed, is suspected to be linked to the attacks.
"It's already hard enough to live in this country sometimes," she continued. "This now, as well?"