Islamic State likely behind attack on wedding, Turkish president says
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Islamic State likely behind attack on wedding, Turkish president says

Blaming jihadis for bombing that killed 30, Erdogan says ‘no difference’ between accused coup plotter Gulen, Kurdish insurgent group PKK and IS

Ambulances arrive at the site of an explosion on August 20, 2016 in Gaziantep following a late night militant attack on a wedding party in southeastern Turkey. (AFP/ AHMED DEEB)
Ambulances arrive at the site of an explosion on August 20, 2016 in Gaziantep following a late night militant attack on a wedding party in southeastern Turkey. (AFP/ AHMED DEEB)

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group was the “likely perpetrator” of a bomb attack on a wedding in the southeastern city of Gaziantep that left at least 30 dead.

Erdogan said in a written statement that there was “no difference” between the group of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who he blames for a failed July 15 coup bid, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) “and Daesh (IS), the likely perpetrator of the attack in Gaziantep.”

At least 30 people were killed and dozens more wounded late Saturday in the attack Saturday night, officials said.

Earlier, other officials also pointed a finger at the Islamic State group for the attack, though others did not rule out involvement by the PKK, which was blamed for a string of attacks on troops earlier in the week.

Mehmet Erdogan, a ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmaker for Gaziantep said earlier it was not clear who was responsible for the explosion but there was a “high possibility” it was a suicide attack.

The lawmaker added that it was the type of attack that could have been launched by the Islamic State (IS) group or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The explosion took place in the Sahinbey district of the city which is said to have a large number of Kurdish residents, fueling speculation of Islamic State (IS) jihadist involvement. Reports said the wedding had a strong Kurdish presence.

“Initial information suggests it is Daesh (IS) who did this,” Gaziantep MP for the AKP, Samil Tayyar, was reported as saying by Dogan news agency.

He added: “It is an area where many of our Kurdish brothers live.”

The explosion is the latest attack to have rocked the key NATO member in a horrific year that has seen a string of strikes blamed on Kurdish and Islamist militants as well as a bloody July 15 botched coup.

Gaziantep governor Ali Yerlikaya said in a statement that 30 people had been killed and 94 wounded in “an abhorrent terror bomb attack on a wedding”.

A previous toll had put the number of dead at 22.

“We condemn the traitors who organized and carried out this attack,” he said, vowing that those responsible would be “brought to account”.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said its members had been present at the wedding which was also attended by many women and children.

“The aim of terror is to scare the people but we will not allow this,” said Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek, who also represents Gaziantep in the Turkish parliament, adding that a suicide bombing was the likely cause.

A major city lying just 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of the Syrian border, Gaziantep has become a hub for Syrians fleeing the civil war in their country.

But as well as refugees and opposition activists, there have long been fears it was home to a significant jihadist presence.

Images from the scene showed bodies covered in white sheets while distraught relatives of the victims were comforted in the street.

Turkey has already been hit by a bloody year of militant attacks in its two biggest cities that have left dozens dead.

Kurdish militants have twice struck in Ankara in deadly attacks, while IS suicide bombers have twice killed tourists in the center of Istanbul.

Meanwhile the country is still reeling from a failed July 15 coup blamed on the US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen that has been followed by a relentless purge of his supporters from all state institutions.

Twelve people were killed on Thursday in a spate of bombings against Turkish security forces blamed on the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who appear to have ramped up their campaign of attacks in the aftermath of the failed coup.

As has been the case in previous attacks, Turkey’s broadcasting regulator RTUK banned broadcast of footage from the scene of the attack in Gaziantep.

Information and Communication Agency (BTK) head Omer Fatih Sayan told state-run Anadolu news agency that those sharing images of the bombing would face prosecution.

The blast in Gaziantep came on the day Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim vowed Ankara would play a “more active” role in the next six months in efforts to solve the over five-year Syrian civil war.

In a sign that Turkey’s position was becoming gradually more aligned with Russia and Iran, he added that Syrian President Bashar Assad could remain temporarily during a transition period.

Iran and Russia are the main allies of Assad whereas Turkey has always insisted his exit was a precondition for the end of the conflict.

Turkey was long accused of turning a blind eye to or even abetting the rise of IS in Syria, claims it vehemently denies.

However Western states say Ankara has begun to move strongly against the group and seal its borders to jihadist traffic after the attacks blamed on IS on its soil this year.

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