Saturday 24 March 2018

Isil takes the war to Turkey as bomb kills 30

Rescuers help a survivor of the deadly explosion that killed dozens of people and injured many others in the southeastern Turkish city of Suruc.
Rescuers help a survivor of the deadly explosion that killed dozens of people and injured many others in the southeastern Turkish city of Suruc.
A woman cries next to the coffin of a victim
Turkish policemen stand next to bodies of some of the victims
A wounded man sits recovering on a step following the explosion in Suruc

Louise Loveluck

A suspected female Isil suicide bomber set off an explosion yesterday near a cultural centre hosting youth activists in a Turkish border town, leaving 30 dead and scores injured.

The blast ripped through the cultural centre in Suruc, just a few miles from the Syrian flashpoint of Kobane, which was itself later hit in a co-ordinated suicide car bombing.

Most of the dead were university students with the Federation of Socialist Youths, who had been planning a mission to help rebuild Kobane, which was retaken from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) by Kurdish fighters earlier this year.

If Isil's role in the bombing is confirmed, it would be one of the extremist group's deadliest strikes on Turkish soil to date.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the attack that left 100 injured as an "act of terror", saying his nation was "drowning in grief".


Turkish officials said they believed a female Isil sympathiser was responsible. A local journalist reported that one witness said she had seen a young woman in a suicide vest.

A second official also said that Isil appeared to have been responsible and that the attack was a "retaliation for the Turkish government's efforts to fight terrorism". Mr Erdogan's government has cracked down on Isil recruitment networks in recent weeks, responding to long-standing pressure from Western nations and Syrian rebels.

Before the suicide bomber struck yesterday morning, dozens of young Turkish and Kurdish men and women shared food around long tables at the cultural centre.

A video was taken of activists holding the federation's flag and a large banner saying: "We defended it together, we are building it together."

It was at that moment the explosion tore through the group.

In the footage, survivors can be heard screaming as bodies lie strewn across the remains of the shattered table frames.

"I saw more than 20 bodies. I think the number of wounded is more than 50. They are still being put into ambulances," said one witness, who gave his name as Mehmet. "It was a huge explosion, we all shook."

Fatma Edemen (22) said the federation of about 200 youths was pressing for access to help reconstruction in Kobane. The bomb exploded as their press conference was ending.

"One of my friends protected me. First I thought 'I am dying', but I was OK. I started to run after I saw the bodies," she said as she headed to hospital to get treatment for minor injuries to her legs.

Speaking by phone, her voice shaking, she said the group had believed Kobane was relatively safe and ready to rebuild.

"Our friends went there and it didn't seem dangerous at that time. We couldn't even think something like that would happen," she said, adding that they hoped to build a kindergarten in the devastated city.

Kobane was also the scene of surprise Isil attacks last month that killed more than 200 people.

Mr Erdogan condemned the perpetrators during a visit to Northern Cyprus, before the final death toll was given.

"We are drowning in grief that 28 citizens died and a large number of people were injured as a result of an act of terror," he said.

"On behalf of my people, I curse and condemn the perpetrators of this brutality."

Hundreds of Kurdish demonstrators protested in Istanbul yesterday to denounce the attack.

Aaron Stein, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, said the attack appeared to target Kurds and was "a spillover of their fight with Isil".

By attacking Turkey directly, "Isil would be signalling a big shift in its military modus operandi, which is to leave Turkey alone in favour of consolidating its gains inside Syria", he said.

The bombing may not have been the group's first attack in Turkey, but it was the most serious. In January, a female suicide bomber with suspected Isil ties blew herself up in a tourist district of Istanbul, killing a police officer and injuring another.

Bastion Suruc is a bastion of support for the People's Protection Units (YPG), the Western-backed Kurdish militia that has led the fight against Isil along Syria's northern border with Turkey.

The town is also home to one of the biggest refugee camps housing Syrians who have fled the bloody conflict at home, sheltering 35,000 refugees.

More than 220,000 Syrians have been killed and at least a million wounded since the country's crisis began in March 2011, according to the UN. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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