‘ISIL child bomber’ carried out Gaziantep wedding attack

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the suicide attacker may have been as young as 12.

Turkish police work near the explosion scene on August 21, 2016. Ahmed Deep/AFP
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GAZIANTEP // A suicide bomber as young as 12 killed at least 51 people at a wedding in Turkey, president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, pointing the finger at ISIL.

Mr Erdogan said Saturday’s blast in Gaziantep near the Syria border “was the result of a suicide bomber aged between 12 and 14 who either detonated [the bomb] or others detonated it.”

The explosion was the latest attack to rock the country in a horrific year that has seen strikes blamed on Kurdish militants and ISIL as well as a bloody coup attempt on July 15.

The president said ISIL was the “likely perpetrator” of the bomb attack, the deadliest to hit Turkey so far in 2016, that targeted a celebration attended by many Kurds.

The remains of a suicide vest were found at the scene, the chief prosecutor’s office said on Sunday.

The UAE condemned the attack, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation highlighting the country’s firm stance in denouncing terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

The ministry also expressed the country’s deepest condolences and sympathy to the victims and their families and wished a speedy recovery to all those injured.

Gulser Ates, one of scores of people wounded in the attack, told Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper that the attack took place as the party was breaking up in the mainly Kurdish neighbourhood.

“We were sitting on chairs, having a chat with one of our neighbours.

“During the explosion, the neighbour died on top of me. I remember being underneath. If my neighbour hadn’t fallen on top of me, I would have died,” she said.

“The bride and groom’s happiest day was poisoned.”

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, when the bride was released from hospital, she said: “They turned our wedding into a bloodbath.”

She later returned to hospital after repeatedly fainting.

Funerals for many of the victims took place on Sunday. 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 the crowds for fear of violence.

One distraught mother wailed: “I lost my children, now I will never see them again.”

Mr Erdogan said 94 people were hurt in the attack. On Sunday night 69 remained in hospital, with 17 in critical condition.

Health minister Recep Akdag said a large number of those injured were women and children.

The bride and groom were reportedly from the mainly Kurdish region of Siirt further to the east and had themselves been uprooted due to the flare-up in violence between the Turkish government and Kurdish militants.

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

Mr Erdogan said such attacks aimed to sow division between Turkey’s different groups including Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen and to “spread incitement along ethnic and religious lines”.

Many extremists see the Kurds as one of their main enemies, with Kurdish militias playing a significant role in the fight against ISIL on the ground in Syria.

A defiant president Erdogan said 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, 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.

Prime minister Binali Yildirim, meanwhile, said Gaziantep would show the same spirit it had shown in 192, when it defeated French forces in Turkey’s Independence War which led to the word Gazi, meaning war hero, being added to its original name of Antep.

A major city just 60 kilometres north of the Syrian border, Gaziantep has become a hub for Syrians fleeing the civil war in their country.

But as well as being home to refugees and opposition activists, there have long been fears that it is also home to extremists.

ISIL suicide bombers have carried out several attacks in Istanbul this year, while Kurdish militants have hit targets in both Ankara and Istanbul.

On Thursday, 12 people were killed in three bombings blamed on the PKK, who Mr Erdogan said had killed 70 members of the security forces in the last month alone.

The blast in Gaziantep came just hours after Mr Yildirim said Ankara would play a “more active” role in efforts to solve the Syrian civil war.

* Agence France-Presse