Suicide bombing by child kills more than 50 at Kurdish wedding in Turkey

Turkish government blames Islamic State for atrocity at crucial cross-border gateway city

A suicide bombing that killed at least 51 people at a wedding party in the southern city of Gaziantep was carried out by an Islamic State affiliate aged between 12 and 14 years old, according to Turkey's president.

The death toll from Saturday night’s attack is expected to rise, potentially making it the second deadliest terrorist attack in Turkey’s history. At least 69 people have been seriously injured in the bombing, which took place in a Kurdish district of Gaziantep 60km (37 miles) from the Syrian border. The blast appears to have targeted the Kurdish-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

"Those who cannot overcome Turkey, and try to provoke people by abusing ethnic and sectarian sensitiveness, will not prevail," Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Istanbul yesterday.

HDP sources said the wedding was that of a party member which had also been organised by party supporters, and was finishing up when the explosion ripped through the gathering. The party claims its members were the target of the bombing.


"It's . . . significant that this attack on the Kurdish wedding happened on the very night Kurdistan Communities Union [KCK] announced a declaration of negotiation and resolution with the Turkish government," an HDP statement said, referring to the militant Kurdish umbrella group that represents separatist Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey's PKK.

The HDP has repeatedly laid responsibility for the deteriorating security situation facing Kurdish civilians close to the Iraqi and Syrian borders on the government's shoulders. Turkish Islamic State affiliates targeted Kurdish gatherings twice last year, killing more than 130 activists and protesters in separate attacks in Suruc and Ankara.

“The ruling party’s hate speech, discriminating and dividing attitudes in democratic political arenas, furnishes the conditions for such attacks,” read the HDP statement.


Turkish authorities, including deputy prime minister

Mehmet Simsek

, an AK Party parliamentary representative for Gaziantep, have vehemently denied that the HDP was the target of the attack, and blamed Islamic State, also known as Isis, for the bombings soon after the blast happened.

The government has viewed the HDP as a political arm of the PKK since the former entered parliament for the first time in June 2015 and temporarily denied the AK Party government its long-standing parliamentary majority. Since then, violence between the PKK and the Turkish military has flared up across swathes of southeast Turkey, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and thousands of separatist militants. PKK militants attack government security forces and police almost daily.

Although Gaziantep is home to large numbers of Syrian refugees and activists, for Isis it remains the most important cross-border gateway to the territories it controls in northeast Syria and Iraq. It regularly moves bomb-making material and fighters through the city and surrounding border areas.

The city of Gaziantep, home to around 1.6 million people, is regarded as having the largest presence of jihadists of any major Turkish city.

Turkey has been criticised by western governments for failing to properly secure its border, and recent reports in national media outlets have claimed that police in Gaziantep stopped tracking the Islamic State jihadists responsible for attacks in Ankara and Suruc last year because of a legal issue. Nineteen extremists were tracked for two years until 2014, when a Gaziantep court denied anti-terror police a new tracking warrant, which had to be renewed monthly in accordance with Turkish law, to continue their surveillance.

The same individuals, reports say, prepared suicide vests at cell houses in Gaziantep. Syrian activists and journalists opposing Islamic State have been gunned down on the city’s streets in broad daylight and dozens of jihadists have been killed and detained in police raids on Islamic State cell houses across the city.

“Over the years, Gaziantep has gradually become a nest for Isis,” said an HDP press release. “The people of Gaziantep have been living in an environment with Isis members who amass weapons and organise mass meetings. In some indictments, it was revealed that the ones launching the attack on October 10th, 2015, in Ankara had also been planning to attack a Kurdish wedding. However, the ruling party did not take the necessary steps to prevent these plans despite all the warnings.”

Islamic State under pressure

However, the jihadist group has come under significant pressure in northern Syria over the past week, losing control of


, until then one of the largest Syrian towns under its authority. Now Syrian rebel groups are reported to be preparing an assault on Jarabulus, a border crossing and town of crucial importance to Islamic State, which lies 65km southeast of Gaziantep.

Turkey has been beset by unrest in recent months following a terrorist attack on Ataturk airport in Istanbul in June and a failed coup attempt on July 15th which the government says was the work of US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen.

In addition to dealing with the ongoing Islamic State threat emerging from Syria, the Ankara government has been battling Kurdish separatist militias since the collapse of a ceasefire in July 2015 .