UPDATED: At least one Norwegian, a brother of the defense attorney for a man declared a national security threat in Norway, is among those injured after a mid-morning explosion in Istanbul. Norway’s Foreign Minister Børge Brende, meanwhile, was also in Turkey on Tuesday, for meetings with top government officials and he described the mood as “tense.”
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), citing local coverage from the scene, initially reported that two Norwegians were among at least 15 people seriously injured by the explosion that rocked a central square close to Istanbul’s famed Blue Mosque. At least 10 people were reported killed.
Norwegian sent to hospital
Norway’s foreign ministry then confirmed that one Norwegian was injured in the blast, which reportedly was set off by a suicide bomber. The Norwegian was sent for treatment at an Istanbul hospital, according to the ministry, where staff was still “working to get an overview of the situation for other Norwegians in the city.”
The Norwegian injured was identified by Dagbladet.no as Jostein Nielsen, a 59-year-old brother of Brynjar Meling, who for years has worked as defense attorney for Mullah Krekar, who’s been accused of inciting terrorism himself. Krekar was declared a national security threat in Norway several years ago and Norway has been trying unsuccessfully to deport him ever since. Italian authorities most recently issued an extradition order for Krekar on other terrorism charges.
Now terrorism reportedly has hit Meling’s own family. Both newspapers Dagbladet and VG reported that Meling’s brother’s injuries in Tuesday’s attack in Istanbul were confirmed by another brother, Kjartan Solvang-Nielsen and Nielsen’s employer, the Salvation Army. Nielsen is deputy leader of Salvation Army operations in Eastern Europe and lives in Moldova, according to Andrew Hannevik, information leader of the Salvation Army in Norway. Nielsen, who was on an unscheduled layover in Istanbul with his wife, suffered injuries that she described to VG as non-life-threatening after explosion debris cut through his knee.
Germans and Norwegians caught in the attack
Tourists struck in the bombing were both Norwegians and Germans, reported CNN and RT.com. Norway’s foreign ministry was unable to say whether any of those killed were Norwegians. The blast occurred at the Sultanahmet plaza in the heart of the Turkish city at around 10am Tuesday and was described as extremely powerful, heard from a distance of several kilometers away.
NRK reported that Turkish police quickly cordoned off the blast scene. One witness who was in the area before people were kept away reported seeing several people on the ground, telling NRK “it was difficult to say who was alive or dead.”
Ministry officials in Norway were advising extreme caution for anyone in Istanbul and to avoid large crowds. They also urged those in Turkey to follow local media and advice offered by Turkish authorities.
Foreign Minister Brende in Ankara
Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende was visiting top Turkish politicians in the capital of Ankara on Tuesday, for “political conversations” with Turkey’s controversial president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s foreign minister and several other members of the Turkish government along with representatives of the opposition.
Turkey was described as a “central” partner for Norway both in terms of regional and international issues. On the agenda were talks regarding developments in Turkey’s neighbouring areas, especially war-torn Syria and Iraq. The challenges presented by the mass migration from the area were also on the agenda, and Brende was due to speak at an annual meeting of Turkish ambassadors and chiefs of foreign missions hosted by the Turkish foreign ministry.
It remained unclear how or whether the explosions in Istanbul would affect Brende’s visit, but a ministry spokesman traveling with Brende told VG.no he was in a meeting with Turkey’s deputy prime minister and still planned to meet with Erdogan Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a bit early to say yet, but Brende’s meeting plan is expected to proceed as planned,” Frode Andersen, the ministry’s communications chief, told VG.
Brende later told NRK that the mood was “very tense” in Ankara and that he had received condolences as well, because a Norwegian was among the injured. Brende still wasn’t sure at mid-afternoon whether his meeting with Erdogan would proceed. He said he had completed meetings with several other ministers and two deputy prime ministers, and all were deeply disturbed by the attack in Istanbul. Børge was due to head home to Norway after his meetings, in time to host a working dinner back in Oslo with Iceland’s foreign minister on Wednesday.
NRK reported that Turkey’s prime minister had called a crisis meeting in Ankara. News bureau NTB reported that Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus had issued a ban on broadcasting from the scene of the explosion, and that other media were experiencing restrictions on coverage.