Turkish PM says that the IS group is the prime suspect for the attack, Turkey’s deadliest ever
ANKARA: Turkish investigators were on Tuesday seeking to firm up suspicions that Islamic State (IS) terrorists were behind the double suicide bombings in Ankara that killed 97, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was due to break days of silence over the blasts.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Monday that the IS group was the prime suspect for the attack, Turkey’s deadliest ever, which targeted a rally of labour, leftist and Kurdish activists.
Erdogan, under fire over alleged security lapses, was due to make his first public remarks since the attacks at an evening press conference with visiting Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.
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Three days after Saturday’s attack, Davutoglu and his wife Sare for the first time laid wreaths at the scene outside the Ankara train station.
There have been growing indications that the authorities are focussing on possible parallels — and even links — to a July 20 suicide bombing on a peace rally in the town of Suruc on the Syrian border that killed 34.
The government blamed IS for the Suruc bombing, which also targeted a gathering of pro-Kurdish and leftist activists.
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said that the Ankara attack “bears similarities to the bombings in Suruc.”
He added that “several arrests” have been made, without giving further details.
“We are carefully examining both the usual and alternative suspects with the help of these arrests,” Turkish media quoted him as saying late Monday.
The Hurriyet daily said that DNA testing on a part of a suspected bomber’s corpse had matched that of a known IS militant who had been to Syria and then returned.
Police over the weekend and on Monday arrested dozens of people with suspected links to IS in cities ranging from the Mediterranean resort of Antalya to the southern city of Adana.
Turkey was long accused by its NATO allies of not taking a tougher line against IS as the group seized swathes of northern Iraq and Syria and battled Kurdish militias.
However after months of Western pressure, Turkey is now a full member of the US-led coalition against IS and allowing American jets to use its Incirlik air base for raids, making it possibly more vulnerable to attack.
The attack has raised political tensions in Turkey to new highs, as the country prepares for a November 1 snap election, with polarisation now greater than ever.
The leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which lost several members in the blasts, accused the Turkish authorities of turning a “blind eye” to IS in Syria.
“It seems there was no preventative work, no security arrangements in place” to thwart the bombing against the peace rally in Ankara, Selahattin Demirtas told CNN-International.
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“That increases the responsibility of the government,” he added.
His party also strongly disagrees with Saturday’s official death toll, with the HDP saying 128 people were killed while the government is sticking to 97.
Hundreds of labour activists gathered in front of Istanbul Sirkeci train station — the fabled terminus of the Orient Express — in the hope of marching through the city to remember the dead.
However in a tense standoff, police blocked their way, saying that the rally was not appropriate following a ban issued overnight by the Istanbul authorities.
Bereaved relatives had on Monday held the first funerals for the victims of the Ankara blast, shouting slogans against the government and Erdogan.
A protest in the Gazi district of Istanbul overnight — a known stronghold of hard-left anti-government activists — descended into violence as masked protesters threw Molotov cocktails at the security forces.
With Turkey on a high security alert after the attacks, the authorities Tuesday defused a suspect package in front of the Ankara train station and shut down the Taksim metro station in central Istanbul over a security scare.
The attack came with the government still waging a relentless “anti-terror” offensive against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), even after the group announced a ceasefire at the weekend.
In the latest air raids on PKK targets, the military said 12 “terrorists” were killed in air strikes on their hold-outs in the southeastern Hakkari region.