A video of a suicide bombing Monday on a cultural center hosting anti-Islamic State activists emerged online by Monday afternoon, showing the gruesome killing of 30 people in a Turkish border town.
The terror attack in the town near the Syrian border was blamed on the Islamic State. The blast ripped through the center in Suruc, a town opposite the Syrian flashpoint of Kobani — which was itself later hit by a suicide car bombing.
Most of the dead were university students who had been planning a mission to help Kobani residents, according to a pro-Kurdish party official.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on a visit to northern Cyprus, condemned the attack as an “act of terror.
“On behalf of my people, I curse and condemn the perpetrators of this brutality,” he stated. “Terror must be condemned, no matter where it comes from.”
The force of the explosion blew out the windows of the building 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, using another name for IS.
If confirmed, it would be the first such attack by IS fighters against Turkey, a regional military power and NATO member.
The blast took place as an anti-IS group based at the cultural center was preparing to announce a mission to Kobani.
Alp Altinors from the pro-Kurdish HDP party said the group from the Federation of Socialist Youth Associations was made up of about 300 people, mainly university students from across Turkey.
“They were planning to build parks in Kobani, hand out toys to children and paint school walls,” he told AFP.
“The town is in chaos. Almost all the shops are closed in Suruc,” local resident Mehmet Celik said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the “barbaric act” and said in a statement: “Fighting terrorism requires an active cooperation from the whole international community.”
The EU’s Johannes Hahn, commissioner of European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, said in a Twitter message: “Tragic consequences of Syrian conflict felt in a neighboring 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 Kobani, 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.
Kobani has been a symbol of resistance against the jihadists since IS fighters were driven out by Syrian Kurdish forces in January.
Turkey’s Kurds were frustrated at the time at Ankara’s refusal to intervene to quash the IS insurgents, who have seized large parts of Syria and Iraq over the past year.
But in recent weeks, security forces have arrested dozens of IS militants and sympathizers 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.
Turkey has also boosted its border defenses, 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 IS 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 IS in the early stages of its existence as a useful ally against Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom Erdogan wants ousted.
Officials fiercely dismiss the criticism that Ankara is not doing enough to halt the flow of militants across the 911-kilometer (566-mile) border and say Turkey has deported more than 1,500 IS suspects and banned nearly 15,000 people from 98 countries from entering.
Ankara has categorized IS as a terrorist group since October 2013.
But Turkey has been a reluctant member of the anti-IS 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 IS out of Kobani after four months of fierce fighting in a hugely symbolic defeat for the Islamists.
The Islamists made a surprise raid on Kobani last month but the fighters were driven back by Kurdish forces.
Suruc, once a center 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 shelters about 35,000 refugees out of a total of more than 1.8 million refugees taken in by Turkey since 2011.