'Smells like terror': Six killed and dozens injured after explosion blasts Istanbul shopping street

Security was visibly bolstered on Sunday night as investigators try and piece together what happened, as Martin Stew reports

At least six people have been killed and more than 80 left injured after an explosion blasted a major pedestrian avenue in the heart of Istanbul on Sunday.

Emergency vehicles rushed to the scene as people fled the fiery explosion on Istiklal Avenue, a popular street lined with shops and restaurants in the famous Taksim Square area.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the blast a “treacherous attack” and said its perpetrators would be punished, as he confirmed the death toll had risen to six.

He did not say who was behind the attack but said it “smells like terrorism”, however, he said this had not yet been confirmed.

The president said investigations were ongoing by the police and the governor’s office, including reviewing footage of the area.

Vice President Fuat Oktay later updated the wounded toll to 81, with two in serious condition, and also said it appeared to be a terrorist attack.

People were seen fleeing the scene earlier on Sunday. Credit: AP

In one video posted online, a loud bang could be heard and a flash seen as pedestrians turned and ran away.

Turkey’s media watchdog imposed temporary restrictions on reporting on Sunday's explosion - a move that bans the use of close-up videos and photos of the blast and its aftermath.

The Supreme Council of Radio and Television has imposed similar bans in the past, following attacks and accidents.

Access to some content on Twitter and other social media sites, such as videos, was also limited.

The street, which is one of the cities busiest and often filled with shoppers, was targeted by a suicide bomber in 2016.

The busy shopping street was targeted by a suicide bomber in 2016. Credit: AP

Turkey was hit by a string of bombings between 2015 and 2017 that left more than 500 civilians and security personnel dead. Some of the attacks were perpetrated by the Islamic State group, while others were executed by Kurdish militants who have led a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state for increased autonomy or independence.

Turkey has been fighting the militants - known as the PKK and considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union - in the country's southeast for years.

Following the string of attacks, Turkey launched cross-border military operations into Syria and northern Iraq against Kurdish militants, while also cracking down on Kurdish politicians, journalists and activists at home through broad terror laws that critics say are a way to silence dissent.

Numerous foreign governments offered their condolences, including neighbouring Greece with which relations are tense. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he was “shocked and saddened by the news of the heinous attack.”