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Istanbul: Deadly blast has ‘Syrian roots,’ President says

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Security forces and emergency personnel secure the scene of explosion in Istanbul, Turkey.

ISTANBUL (CNN) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday’s suicide blast that killed nine in a popular tourist area of central Istanbul has “Syrian roots,” further proof Turkey is not immune to the troubles plaguing its southern neighbor.

Erdogan did not specify which group his government thinks is behind the explosion, which happened between the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque tourist attractions in the cultural and historic heart of the city.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus later said the bomber was born in 1998 and was from Syria. No group immediately claimed responsibility.

ISIS and various militant factions have been battling in Syria, with Turkey siding against those groups. ISIS has targeted Turkey in recent months, putting Erdogan on the cover of its Dabiq magazine with President Barack Obama and playing up the country’s NATO role.

At least 15 people were wounded in the explosion around 10:20 a.m. (3:20 a.m. ET), the Istanbul governor’s office said. The city’s Sultanahmet Square, already a heavily guarded area, was swarming with security forces and ambulances in its aftermath.

“A significant number” of those killed were foreign nationals, Kurtulmus said.

The blast occurred in a square significant to Turkey’s history and its diverse cultural identity.

“(It is) a center for the cultural history that ISIS is so deeply opposed to,” said Sajjan Gohel, international security director at the Asia-Pacific Foundation, noting that ISIS in Syria has targeted just the kind of monuments found in Sultanahmet Square. “It’s a real melting pot of life.”

Germany’s Foreign Office warns travelers

A Norwegian citizen was taken to a nearby hospital after the blast, Foreign Ministry spokesman Frode Andersen told CNN.

And Germany’s foreign affairs ministry said “it cannot be ruled out that German citizens have become victims.”

Germany’s Foreign Office issued a travel advisory. Turkey is a popular destination for German tourists.

“Travelers in Istanbul are urged to avoid larger gatherings, also in public squares and to avoid tourist attractions for now,” a statement said.

‘This could be part of a series of plots’

The blast comes at a time when Turkey is dealing with multiple security threats — from longstanding nemesis the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, as well as ISIS, which has taken over swaths of Syria and Iraq on its quest to form a far-reaching caliphate.

Ankara has persistently battled the PKK, which the United States and other governments have branded a terror group.

Turkey’s actions against ISIS are more recent but have nonetheless made it a target of that terrorist group.

Its anti-ISIS moves include allowing the United States to launch strikes from Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey as well as clamping down along its border to prevent more fighters from joining the group. This cooperation has angered ISIS, said Fadi Hakura, associate fellow at Chatham House.

In October, two explosions hit a lunchtime peace rally in Ankara, which called for an end to the renewed conflict between the PKK and Turkish government. More than 100 people were killed and more than 240 injured.

Tuesday’s blast — if it’s confirmed to be the terror group’s work — ups the ante for Ankara, forcing it to step up its anti-ISIS fight even more, according to the Asia-Pacific Foundation’s Gohel.

“An attack like this is designed to create economic, political and social consequences,” Gohel told CNN. “Turkey has to realize that the pipeline that feeds ISIS from Turkey to Syria has to now be cut off, because incidents like this are not one-offs. This could be part of a series of plots.”