Turkey govt holds security talks after deadly border bombing

Turkey govt holds security talks after deadly border bombing
Relatives and friends carry the coffin of a victim who was killed in Monday's bomb attack, during a funeral ceremony at a cemetery in Suruc, Turkey, July 21, 2015.
PHOTO: Reuters

SURUC, Turkey - Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will chair a cabinet meeting Wednesday on bolstering security along the country's porous border after a devastating bombing blamed on Islamic State jihadists.

Thirty-two people were killed and more than 100 wounded on Monday when a blast ripped through a gathering of young socialist activists preparing to take aid over the border into the flashpoint Syrian town of Kobane.

Authorities said Tuesday they had identified a suspect in the suicide bombing in the town of Suruc, in a mainly Kurdish region on the Syrian border, the first attack on Turkish soil that the government has blamed directly on Islamic State militants.

In harrowing scenes earlier in the day, relatives of the dead clutched the victims' coffins in a farewell ceremony in the southeastern city of Gaziantep ahead of their burial in towns across Turkey.

The killings prompted angry demonstrations by pro-Kurdish activists in several towns, who took to the streets to condemn the attack and protest against Ankara's policy in war-torn neighbouring Syria.

Turkey has long been accused of not doing enough to halt the rise of IS, which controls a large swathe of territory in neighbouring Iraq and Syria, and even colluding with the group - allegations it vehemently denies.

In Istanbul, police fired tear gas and water cannons at a crowd of some 800 people that had gathered chanting anti-government slogans, including: "Murderer state will be brought to account." Demonstrations also took place in the predominantly Kurdish town of Nusaybin on the border with Syria.

Speaking during a visit to Sanliurfa, the hub of the region where Suruc is located, Prime Minister Davutoglu said there was a "high probability" the suicide bomber had connections to IS, without giving further details.

"One suspect has been identified. All the (suspect's) links internationally and domestically are being investigated," Davutoglu said, vowing to do "whatever is necessary against whomever is responsible".

"We expect this investigation to be concluded as soon as possible," he said, after visiting the 29 wounded still in hospital. "This is an attack that targeted Turkey."

'Action plan'

So far, Ankara has played only a secondary role in the US-led coalition that is fighting IS and been wary of backing the jihadists' Kurdish opponents, saying the priority is the ousting of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Davutoglu said Turkey was now taking steps to improve security at its borders, which has long been criticised by Ankara's Western partners as lax.

Turkish authorities point to the challenge of controlling the 911 kilometre (566 mile) border with Syria while remaining open to the refugees fleeing the country's civil war, as well as 38 million tourists a year.

The cabinet will on Wednesday discuss an "action plan" on border security, and the government would then take the "necessary measures" to ensure Turkey's security, the premier said.

"Conflicts abroad should not be allowed to spread to Turkey," he said, insisting that the government had "never had any direct or indirect connection with any terrorist organisation".

The Hurriyet daily said Turkey's intelligence agency had previously warned the government that seven IS members - three of them women - had crossed into the country in recent weeks with the aim of carrying out attacks.

Previous reports had suggested the bomber was a woman, but the DIHA news agency said the suspect was a 20-year-old Turkish man who had become involved with IS two months ago. IS has so far not claimed the Suruc bombing.

'Spillover into Turkey'

In recent weeks Ankara has appeared to take a harder line against the IS group, rounding up dozens of suspected members in Istanbul and other cities.

Nihat Ali Ozcan, security expert at Ankara-based TEPAV think-tank, said the Suruc attack showed the confrontation between IS and Kurdish groups within Syria was "spilling over to Turkish soil".

"The attack could trigger ideological, ethnic and political fault lines in Turkey," he told AFP.

The activists from the Federation of Socialist Youth Associations (SGDF) had arrived in Suruc to take part in a rebuilding mission in Kobane, which Kurdish forces had retaken from IS earlier this year.

Pictures posted on social media showed the toys they had planned to give to the children of Kobane.

Just before the attack, they had been photographed seated at tables having breakfast. The identities of 30 of the 32 victims have been confirmed by the authorities.

The leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas called on people to attend an international rally against "IS barbarism" in Istanbul at the weekend.

The governor of the region of Sanliurfa, where Suruc is located, announced that public rallies had been banned as a security precaution although the ruling was later reversed.

Dozens of people were killed in October in nationwide protests across Turkey against the government's perceived lack of support for Kurds battling IS.

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