An apparent suicide bombing that killed at least 30 and wounded scores more has renewed fears that the Islamic State could wreak havoc in Turkey, where nearly 1 million Syrians have sought refuge.
The blast took place Monday in the Turkish city of Suruc, just a few miles from the Syrian city of Kobani, where Kurdish fighters and U.S. airstrikes defeated the Islamic State late last year. The explosion struck a gathering of leftist activists.
An official from the Turkish prime minister’s office said the Islamic State was the primary suspect.
“According to the first clues, it seems the Islamic State is responsible for the suicide attack,” said the official, who spoke under the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “We have strong reasons to believe that the terrorist attack was perpetrated by IS. The investigation still continues”
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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was visiting northern Cyprus, called the bomb an “act of terror.”
“We are drowning in grief,” he told reporters accompanying him.
Video taken during a gathering of the Socialist Youth Association, which includes large numbers of Turkish and Kurdish political activists from throughout Turkey, caught the bomb’s explosion during a ceremony in which the activists called on the Turkish government to help rebuild Kobani, which was all but destroyed during last year’s fighting.
The death toll is expected to rise; more than 100 people were hospitalized with serious injuries, according to Turkish media reports.
The Turkish government announced it would send three senior officials to the area to show solidarity with Turkish leftists and Kurdish groups. Both have criticized the government for what they say is its unwillingness to crack down on Islamic State supporters along the porous border with Syria.
“We are calling on everyone to show common sense in the face of this terrorist attack targeting our country’s unity,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
A similar attack last month in Diyarbakir during the last election rally of Peoples’ Democratic Party, a Kurdish party, killed three people. No group claimed responsibility for that attack, which came at the same time the Islamic State had launched a new assault on Kobani that killed hundreds.
Turkey has begun strengthening measures against Islamic State militants who for years have operated more or less freely along the long and poorly secured border between Syria and Turkey. In recent weeks, security forces have arrested more then 50 militants and sympathizers around Turkey and blocked several websites associated with the militants.
Suruc is home to one of the largest refugee camps in Turkey; most of the population of Kobani and its outlying areas still are housed there, where they fled during the fighting last year.
If Monday’s bombing turns out to be the work of the Islamic State, it would be the second since the holy month of Ramadan ended. On Friday, at least 130 were killed when a bomb struck evening prayers in Iraq’s Diyala province in the worst single act of terrorism since the Islamic State took over much of northern and central Iraq last June.
McClatchy special correspondents Guvenc reported from Ankara, Turkey, and Prothero from Irbil, Iraq. McClatchy special correspondent Zakarias Zakarias contributed from Istanbul.