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Tuesday 24 April 2018

Turkey blasts probe focuses on IS militants

Relatives cry during the funeral of Korkmaz Tedik, 25, killed in Saturday's bombing attacks (AP)
Relatives cry during the funeral of Korkmaz Tedik, 25, killed in Saturday's bombing attacks (AP)

Turkish investigators are close to identifying one of the suicide bombers in Turkey's deadliest attacks in years, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, adding that Islamic State is the "number one priority" of the investigation.

However, in an interview with private NTV television, Mr Davutoglu also said the evidence pointed to a "certain group" which he refused to identify.

The rally on Saturday was organised by Turkish and Kurdish activists to call for increased democracy and an end to the renewed fighting between Turkey's security forces and the Kurdish rebels that has killed hundreds since July.

On Monday, Yeni Safak, a newspaper close to the government, said authorities investigating the bombings were focusing on IS, comparing DNA samples of the suspected bombers with those obtained from families of some 20 extremists they suspect could have carried out the attacks.

No one has claimed responsibility but the attack bears similarities to a suicide bombing that killed 33 Turkish and Kurdish peace activists near the town of Suruc, bordering Syria, in July. The government blamed that attack on IS.

The Hurriyet newspaper said the type of device and explosives used in Ankara were the same as those used in Suruc.

The government raised the death toll in the weekend attack to 97, including one Palestinian. A pro-Kurdish party has said that up to 128 people died.

Mr Davutoglu said Turkey had received intelligence that Kurdish rebels or IS militants were planning suicide bombings and said two would-be bombers were detained before Saturday's attack.

"There was general intelligence concerning a team called the 'immortals' within Daesh (IS) making preparations, concerning preparations by the PKK," Mr Davutoglu said.

He said the attack aimed to influence the result of Turkey's November 1 election and cast a shadow over the polls.

Mr Davutoglu rejected opposition accusations that the attacks were a result of Turkey's involvement in the conflict in Syria and that the government was dragging the country into the Middle Eastern quagmire.

"These attacks won't turn Turkey into a Syria," Mr Davutoglu said.

Government opponents have also accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of fomenting violence to gain votes for the ruling party - an accusation the Turkish leader rejects.

On Sunday, police detained four more suspected IS militants in a raid in the southern city of Adana, the regional governor's office said. The detentions raised the number of suspected IS militants taken into custody in four cities since Saturday to around 40.

It was not clear if any of the arrests were linked to the peace rally bombings.

Turkey agreed recently to more actively support the US-led battle against IS, opening its bases to US aircraft launching air strikes on the extremist group in Syria and carrying out a limited number of strikes on the group itself.

German chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Turkey on Sunday for talks with the country's leaders on terrorism, Syria and the migrant crisis.

Mrs Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the chancellor will meet Mr Erdogan and Mr Davutoglu.

Mr Seibert said the visit will focus on the countries' "common fight against terrorism", the situation in Syria and dealing with the migrant crisis.

Germany and other European Union countries hope for help from Turkey to stem the influx of refugees and other migrants into EU member Greece.

Hundreds of people staged a march in the capital Ankara today to condemn the suicide bombings.

The march turned into an anti-government protest, with demonstrators accusing the government of not taking measures to protect the rally - or even being behind the deadly attack.

Demonstrators chanted: "The killer state will be held to account!"

A similar protest was held at a university campus in the capital.

Press Association

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