Suicide bomber who killed 51 at wedding party was 12-14 years old
GAZIANTEP, Turkey — The suicide bomber who killed 51 people at a wedding party in southern Turkey was between 12 and 14 years old, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday, according to state-run news agency Andadolu.
Speaking to reporters in Istanbul, the Turkish President said that early indications suggested the terror group ISIS was behind Saturday night’s devastating suicide bomb attack on an outdoor wedding celebration in Gaziantep, near the Syrian border.
“The initial findings of the governor and our police forces indicate the attack has been perpetrated by Daesh,” said Erdogan, using another term for the terror group.
“As you know, Daesh is trying to position and organize itself in Gaziantep. Security operations have been conducted and are still being conducted against the terrorist organization.”
The toll from the attack jumped to 51 Sunday, according to the agency. Dozens of the dead were laid to rest later Sunday in a city cemetery.
Sixty-nine people were wounded in the blast, with 17 of them in critical condition, Anadolu reported.
The bride and groom were among the injured, although their condition was not critical, Anadolu reported, citing hospital officials.
Officials have found pieces of a detonated suicide vest at the scene, the agency reported. Witnesses to the blast described horrific scenes to Anadolu, with one telling the agency that body parts were strewn across the bomb site.
“We couldn’t see anything. Nothing but body parts,” Sukru Akdogan, the groom’s brother, told Anadolu.
Kurdish celebration targeted
The blast occurred in the Beybahce neighborhood of Gaziantep’s Sahinbey district at about around 10:50 p.m. Saturday, according to the Gaziantep governor’s office. Gaziantep is about 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo.
The target was a densely-crowded street in a Kurdish neighborhood where a Kurdish wedding party was taking place, according to Turkey-based journalist Andrew Finkel.
He said there were a number of reasons that the Sunni terror group — if it is responsible for the attack — could have been motivated to strike Kurdish targets.
Kurdish militia have played a central role in recent battlefield victories against ISIS in northern Syria, including driving the group from the key city of Manbij earlier this month, cutting a key supply route from the Turkish border to its heartland in Raqqa.
“This may very well be a revenge attack for that,” Finkel said.
The blast may also have been an attempt to inflame ethnic tensions in the city, currently home to many refugees from the Syrian conflict, he said.
ISIS operatives have previously struck in the bustling southern Turkish city of about 1.5 million people, with the group claiming responsibility for the shootings of anti-ISIS activists in Gaziantep in December and April.
Turkey, which allows planes from the US-led anti-ISIS coalition to operate from its air base at Incirlik, has been in ISIS’ crosshairs, with the group blamed for a series of bomb attacks in the country throughout the year.
In June, 44 people were killed by suspected ISIS suicide bombers at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport.
Erdogan: ‘No difference’ between Turkey’s enemies
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the Gaziantep blast.
But in a statement condemning the attack, Erdogan identified ISIS as the likely perpetrator.
The statement reiterated Erdogan’s position, expressed after three bombings targeting security forces in eastern Turkey last week, that there was “no difference” between the three main opponents of his government — namely the terror group ISIS; the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK); and the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, state-run Anadolu news agency reported Sunday.
Erdogan accuses Gulen of being behind a failed coup attempt last month; Gulen has denied the accusation.
“Those who cannot overcome Turkey and try to provoke people by abusing ethnic and sectarian sensitiveness will not prevail,” Anadolu quoted Erdogan as saying.
US Vice President Joe Biden will visit Turkey on Wednesday, with Turkey’s demand for Gulen’s extradition to be top of the agenda.
Even before the attempted July 15 coup, Turkey had experienced a year of bloodshed and political turmoil, weathering a string of deadly bomb blasts, blamed variously on ISIS and the PKK.
In the most recent attacks, 11 people were killed and hundreds injured in three bombings targeting security forces in eastern Turkey last week. The Turkish government blamed the PKK.
Clashes between the PKK and Turkish forces have flared up again since a peace process crumbled in 2015, bringing an end to a two-year ceasefire.
Since then, Anadolu reports, hundreds of Turkish security forces and about 5,000 PKK members have been killed in the conflict.