ISIS fingered in Turkey border town attack

2015-07-20 17:31
A wounded man waits for medical attention shortly after an explosion in the southeastern Turkish city of Suruc near the Syrian border. (Ozcan Soysal, AP)

A wounded man waits for medical attention shortly after an explosion in the southeastern Turkish city of Suruc near the Syrian border. (Ozcan Soysal, AP)

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Ankara - Twenty-eight people were killed Monday in a suicide attack in a Turkish town on the Syrian border, with officials pointing the finger of blame at the Islamic State group (ISIS).

The blast ripped through a cultural centre in Suruc, a town opposite the Syrian flashpoint of Kobane - which was hit itself shortly afterwards by a suicide car bombing.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on a visit to the Turkish breakaway state in northern Cyprus, condemned the Suruc suicide attack as an "act of terror".

"We are drowning in grief that 28 citizens died and a large number of people were injured as a result of an act of terror," he said. "On behalf of my people, I curse and condemn the perpetrators of this brutality."

The force of the explosion blew out the windows of the building in the centre of the town and set off a blaze, witnesses said.

Television footage showed several people lying on the ground covered in blood and ambulances rushing to the scene.

"The Turkish authorities have strong reason to believe that the terrorist attack was perpetrated by ISIS," a government official told AFP.

If confirmed, it would be the first such attack by the IS group against Turkey, a regional military power and NATO member.

An official in the prime minister's office said 28 people were killed and nearly 100 injured in Suruc, which is home to a large number of Syrian refugees.

The blast took place as a Turkish anti-IS activist group based at the cultural centre was preparing to announce a solidarity mission to Kobane.

Targeting Turkey's unity

EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said in a Twitter message: "Tragic consequences of Syrian conflict felt in a neighbouring country."

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is sending three ministers to the southeastern region following the bombing, his office announced.

"We are calling on everyone to show common sense in the face of this terrorist attack targeting our country's unity," the interior ministry said.

In Kobane, a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb at a checkpoint, killing two members of Kurdish security forces, according to Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Kobane has been a symbol of resistance against the jihadists since IS fighters were driven out in January.

Turkey has recently stepped up its role in the fight against the Islamic State group, which has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq over the past year.

In recent weeks, security forces have arrested dozens of IS militants and sympathisers in the most significant action by Ankara against the jihadists.

"It's now obvious that the Turkish government has upgraded the threat posed by ISIS to among the top ones it is facing," a Western diplomat told AFP last week.

Tolerating ISIS

Turkey boosted its military defences on the border earlier this month, stationing tanks and anti-aircraft missiles there as well as bolstering troop numbers.

The build-up has fed speculation that the government is planning to intervene in Syria to push ISIS jihadists back from the border and halt the advance of Kurdish forces who have made gains against the extremists.

Davutoglu has however ruled out any immediate action in Syria.

Turkey has been accused of tolerating or even aiding ISIS in the early stages of its existence as a useful ally against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Erdogan wants to see ousted.

Officials fiercely dismiss the criticism that Ankara is not doing enough to halt the flow of militants across the volatile 911km and say Turkey has deported more than 1 500 ISIS suspects and banned nearly 15 000 people from 98 countries from entering.

Ankara has categorised ISIS as a terrorist group since October 2013.

Refugee camps

But Turkey has been a reluctant member of the anti-ISIS coalition led by the United States and refused to give its Nato ally the green-light for the use of Incirlik air base in the south for bombings against jihadist targets.

In January, Kurdish forces backed by rebel groups and US-led air strikes had pushed ISIS out of Kobane after four months of fierce fighting in a hugely symbolic defeat for the jihadists.

The Islamists made a surprise raid on Kobane last month but the fighters were driven back by Kurdish forces who took full control of the town.

Suruc, once a centre of silk-making, is home to one of the biggest refugee camps in Turkey housing Syrians who have fled the bloody four-year conflict at home.

The camp, which opened in January, shelters about 35 000 refugees who crossed the border after ISIS jihadists first seized Kobane.

One of the fiercest opponents of the regime in Damascus, Turkey has taken in more than 1.8 million refugees since the war began in 2011.

Read more on:    isis  |  turkey  |  syria

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