Turkish President Erdogan says a child suicide bomber carried out Saturday’s attack on a wedding party in southeast Turkey, killing at least 51 people and wounding scores of others, many of them critically.
Erdogan, speaking Sunday, said initial evidence shows the bomber was between 12 and 14 years old. He said Islamic State extremists appear to have executed the attack in the city of Gaziantep near the Syrian border.
In an earlier written statement, Erdogan said there is “no difference” between Islamic State, the militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, and followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he blames for a coup attempt last month.
“Our country and our nation have again only one message to those who attack us – you will not succeed!” he said.
The White House condemned the Gaziantep attack, saying the “perpetrators of this barbaric act cynically and cowardly targeted a wedding.” The statement Sunday added that Vice President Joe Biden will visit Ankara Wednesday to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to work together with Turkey against “scourge of terrorism.”
All through Saturday night, ambulances rushed the wounded to hospitals across Gaziantep, a major city with a large Kurdish population.
Witnesses said the blast — the deadliest terror attack on Turkish soil this year — occurred in a packed street of people dancing and celebrating a marriage.
Speaking Sunday while surveying the wreckage, local resident Ibrahim Ozdemir said people are in shock.
“Our friends and neighbors were there. We are so sad and in pain. The attack is an atrocity.” He said, “We want to end these massacres. We are in pain, especially the women and children.”
The Turkish city is located just north of the Syrian border and about 90 km from the Syrian city of Manbij. A U.S. backed coalition of Syrian fighters and Kurds earlier this month drove IS fighters from that city after a two-month siege, pushing them into the countryside northward toward the Turkish border.
Shortly after Saturday’s bombing, the pro-Kurdish political party HDP condemned the attack, while noting it came just hours after a Kurdish militant organization battling the Ankara government for autonomy announced new plans to try to end the decades-long conflict.
The so-called Group of Communities in Kurdistan, the KCK, which includes the outlawed PKK, said it is ready to resume peace talks with Ankara, but said the government should take the first step. A KCK statement also said those overtures are supported by “friendly” countries and non-government organizations both inside and outside Turkey.
A police officer secures the scene of an explosion where a suspected suicide bomber targeted a wedding celebration in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, Turkey, Aug. 21, 2016.
The statement also said the Gaziantep attack “targets those determined and consistent in peace…and those struggling for democracy, equality and freedom.”
The PKK launched an armed rebellion in 1984, seeking an autonomous homeland in a vast area of the southeast bordered by Syria, Iraq and Iran. Nearly 50,000 people have been killed in the fighting.
Last year, the armed wing of the PKK scrapped a three-year cease-fire with Ankara, after Turkish warplanes struck the group’s military training bases in northern Iraq while PKK fighters battled Islamic State militants. Ankara also bombed several other PKK bases.