Turkey identifies suspect in suicide attack
Turkey said on Tuesday it had identified a suspect concerning a devastating suicide bombing on the border with Syria blamed on Islamic State jihadists, as the government rushed to bolster security on the porous frontier.
Thirty-two people were killed and more than 100 wounded on Monday when a bomb ripped through a crowd of young socialist activists in a mainly Kurdish region preparing to take aid over the border into Syria. The attack in Suruc was one of the deadliest in Turkey in recent years and the first time the government has directly accused the IS group of carrying out an act of terror on Turkish soil.
Graphic images of the carnage in a cultural centre shocked the country, with the press publishing front page photos of the mutilated corpses of the activists lying on the ground covered in pages from broadsheet newspapers.
"One suspect has been identified. All the [suspect's] links internationally and domestically are being investigated," Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in televised comments, "we expect this investigation to be concluded as soon as possible." He added there was a "high probability" the attack was caused by a suicide bomber with connections to IS jihadists.
Davutoglu said the death toll had risen to 32 and that 29 injured victims were still in hospital. "What is necessary will be done against whomever responsible for [the attack]," said Davutoglu. "This is an attack that targeted Turkey."
With little precise information disclosed, some Turkish press reports suggested the suicide bomber was a woman while others said it was a man dressed as a woman. The Hurriyet daily said Turkey's intelligence agency had previously warned the government that seven IS members - three of them women - had crossed into the country in recent weeks with the aim of carrying out attacks.
The IS group, which has claimed swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq right up to the Turkish border, has not claimed the Suruc bombing so far. But Davutoglu said Turkey was taking steps to improve border security, which has long been criticised by its Western partners. He said the cabinet would discuss Wednesday an "action plan" on border security and the government will then take the "necessary measures".
"Conflicts abroad should not be allowed to spread to Turkey," he said. Turkey has long been accused by its Western partners of not doing enough to halt the rise of IS and even colluding with the group, allegations it vehemently denies. So far, Turkey has not played a full role in the US-led coalition against IS and been wary of backing the jihadists' Kurdish opponents, saying the priority is the ousting of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Davutoglu said the government had "never had any direct or indirect connection with any terrorist organisation". Ankara has in the last weeks appeared to take a harder line against the IS group, rounding up dozens of suspected members in Istanbul and other cities.
Nihat Ali Ozcan, security expert at Ankara-based TEPAV think-tank, said the Suruc attack showed the confrontation between IS and Kurdish groups within Syria was spilling over to Turkish soil. "The attack could trigger ideological, ethnic and political fault lines in Turkey," he told AFP.
Funeral ceremonies for the dead took place in the nearby city of Gaziantep Tuesday amid harrowing scenes as the victims' relatives clutched the coffins of their loved ones.
The activists from the Federation of Socialist Youth Associations (SGDF) had arrived in Suruc to take part in a rebuilding mission for Kobane, which Kurdish forces had retaken from IS earlier this year. Pictures posted on social media showed the toys they had planned to take over for the children of Kobane. Just before the attack, they had been photographed seated at tables enjoying breakfast and tea. The identities of 30 of the victims have now been confirmed by the authorities.
Hundreds of pro-Kurdish activists took to the streets of Turkish cities on Monday night to protest against the attacks and government policy on Syria, with police in Istanbul using water cannon to disperse the rally. The leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas called on people to join an international rally against "IS barbarism" in Istanbul at the weekend.
The governor of the region of Sanliurfa where Suruc is located announced that public rallies had been banned as a security precaution. Dozens of people were killed in October in nationwide protests across Turkey against the government's perceived lack of support for Kurds battling IS jihadists.