Tuesday 20 March 2018

Syrian militants 'were planning Turkey attacks'

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media during a joint news conference with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto in Ankara (AP)
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media during a joint news conference with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto in Ankara (AP)

Turkish security services have intelligence suggesting that militants "originating" from Syria were planning to carry out attacks in Turkey, the country's president said.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan added that no groups were being ruled out in the investigation into two suicide bombings at a peace rally in Ankara which killed 97 people and left hundreds more injured.

Mr Erdogan admitted for the first time that there were "some" government security flaws prior to the bombings on Saturday, but said the scale of the "mistake" would emerge after an investigation.

Speaking during a press conference with his visiting Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto in Ankara, Mr Erdogan rejected opposition parties' calls for the resignation of some officials.

The two suicide bombings came just weeks before Turkey's election on November 1, which is effectively a re-run of an inconclusive June election.

The bombings raised fears that Turkey - a member of Nato, a candidate for European Union membership, a neighbour of war-torn Syria and the host for more refugees than any other nation - may be heading toward a period of instability.

The blasts have further polarised Turkey as it grapples with more than two million refugees and tries to avoid being drawn into the chaos in neighbouring Syria and Iraq.

"There is certain intelligence about some preparations that were made by (terrorists) entering our country and carrying out various acts - and that they originated from Syria," Mr Erdogan said.

The Turkish leader rejected suggestions from a pro-Kurdish Party that the state may have had a hand in Saturday's attack that targeted left-wing opposition supporters and Kurdish activists, saying the accusations were based on gossip.

Prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said the Islamic State group was the main focus of the investigation into Saturday's attack, which bore similarities to a suicide bombing that killed 33 activists at a town near the Syrian border in July. No-one has claimed responsibility for Saturday's explosions.

Turkish authorities banned a protest rally and march by the same trade union and civic society groups who lost friends and colleagues in Saturday's attack, but hundreds of people defiantly gathered for the protest in Istanbul.

Dogan news agency video footage showed police pushing back hundreds of demonstrators trying to reach the rally to commemorate the 97 victims.

Plain-clothed police pushed at least two demonstrators to the ground and detained them.

"Our brothers were killed! What are you doing?" a woman shouted.

Several small protests - involving dozens to a few hundred people - have erupted across Turkey since Saturday, with people expressing their grief and their grievances. Some have turned into anti-government demonstrations, with participants expressing dismay that no official has taken responsibility for the security lapse and resigned.

As with previous terror probes, Turkish authorities imposed "partial secrecy" on the investigation, which even restricts defence lawyers' access to information. The government has also banned the publication of images of the aftermath of the attack.

The youngest victim was nine-year-old Veysel Atilgan, who died in an explosion outside Ankara's main train station along with his father. He was buried on Monday following an emotional ceremony at his school.

Press Association

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News