A suicide bomb attack on a Kurdish wedding in Turkey killed at least 54 people on Saturday evening, many of them children. The bomber himself has been described as a child only 12 to 14 years old, possibly coerced into wearing his remote-detonated explosive device.
NPR reports that at least 22 of the bombing victims in Gaziantep were children. In addition to the 54 people killed, 66 were wounded, 14 of them critically, making it one of the bloodiest terrorist attacks on Turkish soil. The bride and groom are said to be among the injured.
According to CNN, a woman appearing on Turkish television said the bombing “seriously injured her husband, and killed four of her five children.”
“If my remaining child was not alive, I would commit suicide,” she said.
“We couldn’t see anything. Nothing but body parts,” the groom’s brother said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed the attack on the Islamic State which, he said, “is trying to position and organize itself in Gaziantep.”
“Those who cannot overcome Turkey and try to provoke people by abusing ethnic and sectarian sensitiveness will not prevail,” declared Erdogan, taking the opportunity to reiterate his stance that ISIS, the Kurdish separatists of the PKK, and the followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen — whom Erdogan blames for last month’s failed effort to depose him — are equal threats to his nation’s security.
Erdogan also claimed the bomber was a child aged 12 to 14, although NPR notes there were signs on Monday that the Turkish government was “walking back that statement.”
Fragments of a suicide vest were recovered by police from the scene of the attack, which took place on a crowded street where the wedding celebration was held. The BBC adds that a celebration of “henna night,” which is “attended mainly by women and children,” was also in progress, and helped to account for the large number of child victims.
A senior security official told Reuters the suicide vest was similar to those used by the Islamic State in two previous attacks, in July and October of 2015 — the latter being the infamous bombing of a pro-Kurdish rally in Ankara.
Another security official said the Turks are investigating “the possibility militants could have placed the explosives on the child without his or her knowledge and detonated them remotely, or that a mentally disabled child was duped into carrying the device, a tactic seen elsewhere in the region.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, a 12-year-old boy wearing a suicide vest was intercepted in Kirkuk, Iraq, over the weekend, less than 24 hours after the Kurdish wedding massacre in Turkey and only an hour after a suicide bomb attack on a Shiite mosque in Kirkuk. The boy, who was apparently targeting another Shiite mosque, tearfully claimed he was kidnapped and forced to become a suicide bomber by ISIS fanatics.
“Prosecutors said a search was also under way for two people believed to have accompanied the suspected attacker to the wedding party but who left before the blast,” the BBC adds.
In the wake of the wedding attack, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu declared that the Islamic State should be “completely cleansed from our borders, and we are ready to do what it takes for that.” However, Turkey also wishes to prevent the Kurds from growing too strong along their border.
To that end, Reuters reports Turkey is sponsoring a rebel group inside Syria that will take the key town of Jarablus from ISIS before the Kurds can get there. Turkey’s support evidently includes providing at least ten tanks to the rebel Free Syrian Army.