Fresh tragedy: Child bomber kills 51 wedding guests in Turkey

Published: August 22, 2016
Mourners weep during the funeral of the victims of Saturday’s attack on a wedding party in Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey. PHOTO: AFP

Mourners weep during the funeral of the victims of Saturday’s attack on a wedding party in Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey. PHOTO: AFP

GAZIANTEP: At least 51 people were killed when a suicide bomber aged between 12 and 14 attacked guests dancing on the street at a wedding party in the Turkish city of Gaziantep near the Syrian border late Saturday, the Turkish president said.

The attack was the deadliest in a series of bombings in Turkey this year, and President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that the Islamic State was likely behind it. Turkey faces multiple security threats from militants at home and from Syria.

“Initial evidence suggests it was a Da’ish attack,” Erdogan said, using an Arabic name for the hardline group, during a visit to Gaziantep after the attack. He said 69 people were in hospital and 17 were ‘heavily injured’. Islamic State has been blamed for other attacks in Turkey, often targeting Kurdish gatherings in an effort to inflame ethnic tensions.

The deadliest one was last October, when suicide bombers killed more than 100 people at a rally of pro-Kurdish and labour activists in Ankara.

Saturday’s attack comes with Turkey still in shock just a month after Erdogan and the government survived an attempted coup by rogue military officers, which Ankara blames on US-based Islamist preacher Fethullah Gulen. Gulen has denied the charge.

Saturday’s wedding party was for a member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, it said, and the groom was among those injured.

The bride was not hurt, one local official said. Celebrations were ending at the traditional henna night party, when guests have decorative paint applied to their hands and feet.

Some families had already left when the bomb went off but women and children were among the dead, witnesses said. Blood and burns marked the walls of the narrow lane where the blast hit. Women in white and checkered scarves cried, sitting crosslegged outside the morgue waiting for word on missing relatives.

“The celebrations were coming to an end and there was a big explosion among people dancing,” said 25-year-old Veli Can. “There was blood and body parts everywhere.” “We want to end these massacres,” witness Ibrahim Ozdemir said. “We are in pain, especially the women and children.”

Funerals, forenstic tests

Nato member Turkey is a partner in the Western coalition against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, allowing US jets to fly attacks against the group from its air bases. It has also backed some rebel groups in Syria.

Syrian rebels were preparing to launch an operation to capture a town held by Islamic State at the border with Turkey, a senior Syrian rebel said on Sunday.

Hundreds gathered for funerals on Sunday, some weeping at coffins draped in the green colour of Islam, local television images showed.

But other funerals would have to wait because many of the victims were blown to pieces and DNA forensics tests would be needed to identify them, security sources said.

In Gaziantep, the chief prosecutor’s office said they had found a destroyed suicide vest at the blast site. Three suspected Islamic State suicide bombers killed 44 people at Istanbul’s main airport in June. Violence has also flared again this week in the largely Kurdish southeast.

Ten people were killed in bomb attacks, mostly police and soldiers, in an escalation that officials blamed the PKK.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd,  2016.

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