Turkey vows to 'completely cleanse' Isil from its territory
Published 23/08/2016 | 02:30
Turkey has vowed to "completely cleanse" Islamic State militants from its border region, after a suspected suicide bomber with links to the group killed 54 people, including 22 children, at a Kurdish wedding.
Saturday's attack in the southeastern city of Gaziantep is the deadliest in Turkey this year. It was carried out by a suicide bomber aged between 12 and 14, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, adding that initial evidence pointed to Islamic State.
A senior security official said the device used was the same type as those employed in the July 2015 suicide attack in the border town of Suruc and the October 2015 suicide bombing of a rally of pro-Kurdish activists in Ankara.
Both of those attacks were blamed on Islamic State. The group has targeted Kurdish gatherings in an apparent effort to further inflame ethnic tensions strained by a long Kurdish insurgency. The Ankara bombing was the deadliest of its kind in Turkey, killing more than 100 people.
"Daesh should be completely cleansed from our borders and we are ready to do what it takes for that," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a news conference in Ankara, using an Arabic name for the group.
A senior rebel official said Turkish-backed Syrian rebels were preparing to launch an attack to seize the Syrian town of Jarablus from Islamic State on the border with Turkey, a move that would deny control to advancing Syrian Kurdish fighters.
The rebels, groups fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, were expected to assault Jarablus from inside Turkey in the next few days. TV footage showed around 10 Turkish tanks deployed at a village around 4 km (2.5 miles) from the border gate immediately across from Jarablus. It was not clear how long the tanks had been there.
Prime Minister Binali Yilidirm has said Turkey would take a more active role in Syria in the next six months to prevent the country from being divided along ethnic lines.
Cavusoglu said Turkey, a member of Nato and the US-led coalition against Islamic State, had become the "number one target" for the militants because of its work to stop recruits traveling through Turkey across its over 800km border into Syria to join the Sunni hardline group.
For Ankara, Islamic State is not the only threat lurking across its frontier. Turkey is also concerned that attempts by Syrian Kurds to extend their control along the common border could add momentum to an insurgency by Kurds on its own territory.
Dogan news agency said the death toll in the Gaziantep bombing had risen yesterday to 54 after three more people died. Sixty-six were being treated in hospital, 14 in serious condition.
For five years fighting has raged in Syria - a humanitarian disaster destabilising the region and the world. The aim of Bashar al-Assad's opponents' always was to drive the Syrian leader from power, but they have lacked the means to dislodge him. Now an inflection point may be at hand, with powerful opposition backer Turkey suggesting Assad, despite his brutality in the war, could play a role in an unspecified transition period.
The statement Saturday by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim was nuanced: On one hand, "Assad does not appear to be someone who can bring (Syrians) together" - but on the other, "there may be talks (with Assad) for the transition".
Until now, Syria's neighbour to the north was determined to see him out of power - providing refuge and supply lines for a variety of Syrian rebel groups and turning something of a blind eye to the use of its territory by Islamic State jihadis waging their own fight with Assad as well.
The attack comes with Turkey still shaken just a month after the government survived an attempted coup by rogue military officers, which Ankara blames on US-based Islamist preacher Fethullah Gulen. Gulen denies the charge.
Turkish authorities have said a destroyed suicide vest was found at the scene of the bombing. A second security official said that they were investigating the possibility militants could have placed the explosives on the child without his or her knowledge and detonated them remotely, or that a mentally disabled child was duped into carrying the device, a tactic seen elsewhere in the region.