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Scores Of Casualties In Turkey Wedding Bombing

Aug 22, 2016
Originally published on August 22, 2016 6:53 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In Turkey today, funerals are being held for many of the more than 50 people killed by a suicide bomber at a wedding celebration over the weekend. Turkey's president says the bomber was linked to the Islamic State. And he also says the attacker was only a child, probably 12 to 14 years old. We're learning this morning that at least 22 of his victims were also children.

Joining us from Istanbul to talk about this latest terror attack to hit Turkey is NPR's Peter Kenyon. Good morning.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And what do we know so far?

KENYON: Well, it was a Kurdish wedding in Gaziantep. That's a city down near the border with Syria. And like a lot of these events, it was huge. Hundreds of people were around celebrating. And sometime, we're told around 11 o'clock, the bomber, apparently a very young person, came in and set off an explosive vest - a huge explosion, the carnage was extensive.

As you mentioned, many of the victims were children. The bride and groom, we're told, did survive. But what was supposed to be a happy day for them turned into a horrific scene that they won't be forgetting.

MONTAGNE: And how unusual is this there in Turkey for a suicide bomber to be so young?

KENYON: Oh, it's very unusual. As far as I can tell, it's never happened here. ISIS has used child bombers before. There's a monitoring group in the U.K. called the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. And they say ISIS used 18 child bombers in 2015. There have been reports of cases in Nigeria and Afghanistan as well. But for Turkey, I think this is a first.

MONTAGNE: Turkey is blaming the Islamic State, but there is no claim of responsibility at this point. So why ISIS?

KENYON: Well, there's been attacks by a number of different groups, including Kurdish militants from the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party. They've been fighting in the southeast for some time. But since these victims were mainly Kurdish, the PKK probably wasn't behind that is the thinking. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the police have told him their investigation is pointing to ISIS. This is what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRES RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: Now, right there at the beginning where he says (foreign language spoken), that in Turkish is where he's saying 12 to 14 years old is how young the bomber was, according to police. And he goes on to say that ISIS has plotted a number of attacks. They're trying to destabilize Turkey. And it looks like they were behind this one.

MONTAGNE: Why would ISIS carry out such a bloody attack against Kurds celebrating a wedding in this town, Gaziantep? I mean, is there a particular focus that they would have right here against these exact people?

KENYON: Well, not against these exact people. That's a very good point. But one possible explanation is that ISIS is upset about Kurdish military victories in northern Syria 'cause it's the Kurdish fighters who are really leading the charge there against the ISIS fighters. They just liberated Manbij, a city near the border.

So some are saying this could be revenge taken against Kurdish civilians who had nothing to do with it, obviously, inside Turkey for Kurdish battlefield gains in Syria. And also, of course, it's a message to Turkey that, hey, we're still here. We can still do this.

MONTAGNE: And with this bombing, it just highlights that this has been a truly awful year for Turkey in terms of terror attacks and not just from ISIS, as you've said. What is the government doing to reassure people about their safety?

KENYON: Well they're trying, but it's quite tense. I mean, three attacks from the PKK, the Kurdish fighters just last week and now this. Turkey's still trying to recover from the coup last month, the failed coup. And President Erdogan blames that on a U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. He's saying all of these groups are the same. They all want to hurt us. Here's a bit of what he said about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERDOGAN: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: Now, he's saying ISIS, the PKK and the Gulen group, they're all terrorists. They've got to be fought. Now, the U.S. agrees that ISIS and the PKK are terrorist groups. But it doesn't see the Gulen movement that way. And that's been a sore point. There's a delegation coming here to talk about Turkey's extradition request. And then Joe Biden is coming, the vice president, to try and shore up relations.

So a heavy week of diplomacy coming to see if they can shore up ties.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Peter Kenyon speaking to us from Istanbul. Thanks very much.

KENYON: You're welcome, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.