More than 50 people were killed and nearly 100 people were critically wounded after a child aged between 12 and 14 blew himself up at a wedding ceremony at around 11 pm local time on Saturday in Turkey’s southeastern province of Gaziantep, 60 kilometer north of the Syrian border. Condemning the deadliest act of terrorism to have hit the country this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that “Daesh [ISIS] is the likely perpetrator of the attack”. According to the Gaziantep Prosecutor’s Office, a fragment of the suicide bomber’s vest was recovered from the scene.
Spent the night in #Gaziantep following the horrific & shocking terrorist attack. Our message is very simple:
We will NOT bow to terror!
— Mehmet Simsek (@memetsimsek) August 21, 2016
Meanwhile, to avoid spreading “fear in the community which could create panic and chaos”, the Turkish authorities temporarily banned the broadcasters from showing scenes of or after the explosion, scenes of the injured or the dead, reactions of eyewitnesses and public officials. It also noted that publications defying the order could “serve the purpose of terrorist organizations” responsible for the suicide blast.
Although authorities temporarily halted media coverage of the barbaric attack, journalists and eyewitnesses took to Twitter to post the scenes of devastation:
— Haidar Sumeri (@IraqiSecurity) August 20, 2016
— Ahmed Hassan (@SHAWSHANK5) August 20, 2016
— Ihtisham ul Haq (@iihtishamm) August 21, 2016
— Hêvîda ☆☆☆☆ (@sevimkizcan) August 21, 2016
— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) August 21, 2016
Video of the aftermath of the attack has also emerged on YouTube:
25-year-old Veli Can, an eye witness, told reporters: “The celebrations were coming to an end and there was a big explosion among people dancing. There was blood, and body parts everywhere.”
Ibrahim Ozdemir, another eyewitness, added: “It was carried out like an atrocity. We want to end these massacres. We are in pain, especially the women and children.”
Gulser Ates, who was wounded in the attack, told the state-run Anadolu Agency: “I don’t know what happened. The only thing I know is that my neighbor died on top of me. If she had not fallen on me, I would have died, too. Her body saved me. I condemn terror. There were innocent children there. No one had done anything wrong.”
The wedding of an influential pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) member was attended by a large number of Kurdish residents, raising speculation of ISIS involvement. Metin Gurcan, a security analyst and a former special-forces officer who previously worked in Kirkuk and Baghdad, told Al Arabiya News the attack deliberately targeted HDP sympathizers attending a purely civilian celebration:
“The target population, the type of attack and the location of the blast show that it is an ISIS attack aiming to reach one of the most vulnerable ethnic and religious nerves of Turkish society… As a common trend, ISIS doesn’t target countries but specific segments of the societies. Its foremost strategic target is to create a cleavage in Turkey between radical Sunnis who support it and the others who are alienated from the society, in this case Kurds.”
Mahmut Toğrul, the Gaziantep MP for the HDP, regarded the assault as a revenge attack on Kurds in Turkey by ISIS. He told The Guardian:
“It’s a catastrophe. People came together to celebrate, they were defenseless. ISIS has always targeted civilians, but we need to see this attack as a revenge attack on Kurds. This was not a random target and not just any wedding. Most of the people celebrating at the wedding were HDP supporters. The families of the couple are Kurds displaced from their villages during the clashes in the 1990s [between Turkish security forces and the PKK].”
The terror attacks in Turkey in the past year have linked either to ISIS or the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Saturday’s attack comes a month after a group of Turkish soldiers attempted to overthrow the government, commandeering tanks, helicopters and warplanes in an attempted coup [blamed by the Turkish government on a network linked to the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen] that killed nearly 250 people. Hakan Yavuz, a professor in the department of political science at the University of Utah, says Turkey is more vulnerable after the coup:
“The coup attempt destroyed the military institutions. There is also a rapprochement between Russia, Iran and Turkey over their Syria policies. Ankara is much more moderate now in allowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stay in government, at least during the transition period. ISIS poses a greater threat to Turkey as a result of this shift in the country’s foreign policy.”
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