At least 51 people have been been killed and nearly 100 injured after a child suicide bomber ripped through a wedding party in Turkey.
Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan said it was likely that ISIS was behind the attack which saw the bomber, a boy, thought to be aged between 12 and 14, blow up among people dancing in the street at a party in the city of Gaziantep last night.
Erdogan added the blast near the Syria border ‘was the result of a suicide bomber who either detonated (the bomb) or others detonated it’.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, said in a statement that the wedding was for one of its members, and women and children had been among those killed.
Hundreds gathered for funerals this afternoon, with coffins draped in green flags. But security sources said some ceremonies will have to wait because many victims were blown to pieces and DNA tests would be needed to identify them.
One person who witnessed the attack said: ‘The celebrations were coming to an end and there was a big explosion among people dancing. There was blood and body parts everywhere.’
Another added: ‘It was carried out like an atrocity. We want to end these massacres. We are in pain, especially the women and children.’
The bride and groom – Besna and Nurettin Akdogan – were rushed to hospital but were not seriously wounded.
According to the state-run Anadolu news agency, the bride was released from hospital, saying as she left: ‘They turned our wedding into a bloodbath.’
She later returned to hospital after repeatedly fainting, Anadolu reported.
Erdogan said in a statement that there was ‘no difference’ between the group of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who he blames for the failed coup bid, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) ‘and Daesh (ISIS), the likely perpetrator of the attack in Gaziantep’.
‘Our country and our nation have again only one message to those who attack us – you will not succeed!’ he said.
Funerals for many of the victims took place on Sunday with an AFP photographer saying that some covered relatives’ coffins with the Kurdistan flag.
As hundreds waited to say their final goodbye, some voiced anger at what they perceived to be the government’s failure to prevent the attack.
Shouts of ‘shame on you, Erdogan’ rang out while others hurled water bottles at police who kept their distance from rowdy crowds for fear of violence.
One distraught mother wailed: ‘I lost my children, now I will never see them again.’
‘The aim of terror is to scare the people but we will not allow this,’ said Deputy Prime Mehmet Simsek, who also represents Gaziantep in the Turkish parliament.
‘It is barbaric to attack a wedding,’ he told Turkish television.
Simsek later traveled to Gaziantep along with the country’s health minister to visit the wounded and inspect the site of the attack.
‘This is a massacre of unprecedented cruelty and barbarism,’ he told reporters in Gaziantep. ‘We … are united against all terror organizations. They will not yield.’
He told reporters it was too soon to say which organisation was behind the attack.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim condemned the bombing that turned ‘a wedding party into a place of mourning’ and vowed to prevail over the ‘devilish’ attacks.
‘No matter what this treacherous terror organisation is called, we as the people, the state, and the government will pursue our determined struggle against it,’ he said.
A brief statement from the Gaziantep governor’s office said the bomb attack on the wedding in the Sahinbey district occurred at 10.50pm.
Governor Ali Yerlikaya told Anadolu Agency the attack took place in Akdere neighborhood of Sahinbey district on the southern outskirts of the city.
He added that it was the type of attack that could have been launched by ISIS or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
‘The explosion took place during a wedding. According to initially available information, the ceremony was being held outdoors,’ the official said.
Just north of the Syrian border, Gaziantep has become a major hub for Syrians fleeing the civil war in their country’s civil war.
But as well as refugees and opposition activists, there have long been fears it was home to a significant jihadist presence.
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 centre of Istanbul.
The blast in Gaziantep came on the day 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 al-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 ISIS in Syria, claims it vehemently denies, but has taken a tougher line after the jihadist attacks on its soil.
The United States condemned the attack and said Vice President Joe Biden would discuss the fight against terrorism during a visit to Ankara this coming week.
‘The perpetrators of this barbaric act cynically and cowardly targeted a wedding, killing dozens and leaving scores wounded,’ said Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, in a statement.