ANKARA, Oct 11, (Agencies): Turkey is targeting Islamic State in investigations of a double suicide bombing in Ankara that killed up to 128 people, officials said on Sunday, while opponents of President Tayyip Erdogan blamed him for the worst such attack in Turkish history. Government officials made clear that despite alarm over the attack on a rally of pro-Kurdish activists and civic groups, there would be no postponement of November polls Erdogan hopes can restore an overall majority for the AK Party he founded. The attacks have shocked a nation beset by resurgent conflict with the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in its southeast and increasingly threatened by spillover from the war in neighbouring Syria.
Islamic State fighters are encamped close to its borders, which mark also the frontier of the NATO alliance, and last week Russia launched air strikes in Syria, its planes violating Turkish air space on several occasions. Two senior security sources said initial signs suggested Islamic State was behind the Ankara attack, and that it bore striking similarity to a July suicide bombing in Suruc near the Syrian border, also blamed on the radical Islamists. “All signs indicate that the attack may have been carried out by ISIL (Islamic State). We are completely focused on ISIL,” one of the sources told Reuters. CHP opposition leader Ahmet Kilicdaroglu, speaking after a meeting with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, said he had been told both suicide bombers were men. State-run Anadolu Agency said police detained 43 suspects in operations targeting the Islamic State across Turkey from Sanliurfa in the southeast to Izmir in the west and Antalya on the south coast. It was not clear when they were held.
The Haberturk newspaper reported police sources as saying the type of explosive and the choice of target pointed to a group within Islamic State known as the ‘Adiyaman ones’, referring to Adiyaman province in southeast Turkey. Meanwhile, thousands of people took to the streets of Ankara on Sunday to denounce the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after 128 people were killed in twin suspected suicide bombings on a peace rally, Turkey’s worst ever terror attack. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu declared three days of national mourning, with flags flying at half mast across the country, as questions grew over who could have ordered the Ankara bombings. Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), one of the groups that called the peace rally, issued a statement claiming the actual toll was far higher at 128, giving the names of 120 victims.
Saturday’s attacks intensified tensions in Turkey ahead of snap elections on Nov 1 as the military wages an offensive against Islamic State (IS) jihadists and Kurdish militants. Thousands of demonstrators filled Sihhiye Square in central Ankara, close to the site of the blasts by Ankara’s main train station, with some shouting antigovernment slogans. Several demonstrators blamed Erdogan over the bombings, shouting “Erdogan murderer”, “government resign!” and “the state will give account”. “I am a mother, I’m worried about my grandchildren, I am marching for our children, for our future. Each time, there are people dead, I also die a little,” said demonstrator Zahide, who like many others carried a pink carnation flower to commemorate the victims. “May God punish Tayyip (Erdogan)!” Erdogan condemned the “heinous” attack in a statement and cancelled a visit to Turkmenistan, but has yet to speak in public after the bombings. The premier’s office said 95 people were killed when the bombs exploded just after 10:00 am (0700 GMT) as leftist and pro-Kurdish activists gathered for the rally outside Ankara’s train station. It said that 508 people were wounded, with 160 still in hospital and 65 in intensive care in 19 hospitals.
An AFP correspondent said the scene of the blast was littered with ball bearings, indicating the explosions were intended to cause the maximum damage. In an emotional address at the Ankara rally, the HDP’s leader Selahattin Demirtas said that rather than seeking revenge people should aim to end Erdogan’s rule, starting with the Nov 1 legislative elections. “We are not going to act out of revenge and hatred. But we are going to ask for (people to be held to) account,” he added, saying the elections would be part of a process to “topple the dictator.” Even before the attacks, the president was under immense political pressure after his Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its overall majority in June 7 polls for the first time since it came to power in 2002. Coalition talks failed and Erdogan has called new elections on Nov 1. But to the disappointment of the AKP, opinion polls show the outcome may be little different to the previous ballot.
This weekend’s death toll surpassed that of May 2013 twin bombings in Reyhanli on the Syrian border that killed over 50 people, making the attack the deadliest in the history of the Turkish Republic. With international concern growing over instability in the key NATO member, US President Barack Obama offered his condolences to Erdogan and solidarity “in the fight against terrorism”, the White House said. The attacks drove a knife through the heart of normally placid Ankara, which became the capital following the founding of the modern Turkish Republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. “This could well be Turkey’s 9/11,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Programme at The Washington Institute, referring to the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks by al-Qaeda in the United States. Davutoglu said groups including Islamic State (IS) jihadists, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party- Front (DHKP-C) were capable of carrying out such an attack.