Turkey Vows to Cleanse IS From Border Region

IS has been blamed for other similar attacks in Turkey, often targeting Kurdish gatherings in an effort to inflame ethnic tensions
People attend the funeral of a victim killed in the bomb attack in Gaziantep, Turkey, on August 21.People attend the funeral of a victim killed in the bomb attack in Gaziantep, Turkey, on August 21.

Turkey vowed on Monday to “completely cleanse” its border region of the self-styled Islamic State terrorists, after a suspected suicide bomber with links to the group killed 54 people, including 22 children, at a Kurdish wedding.

Saturday’s attack in the southeastern city of Gaziantep is the deadliest in Turkey this year.

“It was carried out by a suicide bomber aged between 12 and 14,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, adding that initial evidence pointed to IS involvement, Reuters reported.

A senior security official told Reuters the device used was the same type as those employed in the July 2015 suicide attack in the border town of Suruc and the October 2015 suicide bombing of a rally of pro-Kurdish activists in Ankara.

Both of those attacks were blamed on IS. The group has targeted Kurdish gatherings in an apparent effort to further inflame ethnic tensions already strained by a long Kurdish insurgency. The Ankara bombing was the deadliest of its kind in Turkey, killing more than 100 people.

“Daesh should be completely cleansed from our borders and we are ready to do what it takes for that,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a news conference in Ankara, using an Arabic name for the group.

A senior militant official said Turkish-backed Syrian militants were preparing to launch an attack to seize the Syrian town of Jarablus from IS on the border with Turkey, a move that would deny control to advancing Syrian Kurdish fighters.

The militants, groups fighting under the banner of Free Syrian Army, were expected to assault Jarablus from inside Turkey in the next few days.

Cavusoglu said Turkey, a member of NATO and the US-led coalition against IS, had become the “No.1 target” for the militants because of its work to stop recruits traveling through Turkey across its over 800-km border into Syria to join the extremist group.

For Ankara, IS is not the only threat lurking across its frontier. Turkey is also concerned that attempts by Syrian Kurds to extend their control along the common border could add momentum to an insurgency by Kurds on its own territory.

Dogan news agency said the death toll in the Gaziantep bombing had risen on Monday to 54 after three more people died. Sixty-six were being treated in hospital, 14 in serious condition.

Saturday’s attack comes with Turkey still in shock just a month after Erdogan and the government survived an attempted coup by rogue military officers, which Ankara blames on US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who has denied the charge.

A second security official told Reuters that they were 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.

“It could be that someone was loaded with explosives without even being aware of it and it may have been detonated remotely,” the official said, adding a search was underway for suspected militants who may have played a reconnaissance role.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party said the wedding party was for one of its members. The groom was among those injured, but the bride was not hurt.

  Funerals, Forensic Tests

Hundreds gathered for funerals on Sunday, with coffins draped in the green of Islam. But some ceremonies would have to wait because many victims were blown to pieces and DNA tests would be needed to identify them, security sources said.

“Every type of death is painful. But it is even more painful when it comes with religious slogans. It is even more painful when they mix religion with politics,” said Omer Emlik, who said he was an uncle of two of the victims. “All the people here are suffering.”

Anti-government protests erupted at one funeral where protesters threw plastic bottles and chanted “Murderer Erdogan!” Some in Turkey believe the government colluded with IS by purchasing cheap fuel supplied by the militants from Syrian refineries and has not done enough to protect its citizens from IS.


  Ethnic Faultlines

“ISIS has been trying to agitate or exploit already tense ethnic and sectarian faultlines to retaliate for the advancement of Syrian Kurds in the north of Syria and by Turkey’s attack on ISIS targets in Syria,” said Metin Gurcan, an independent security analyst and retired Turkish military officer who writes a column for Al-Monitor. “For ISIS, it is hitting two birds with one stone.”

ISIS is an earlier name of the IS.

In the latest southeast violence, two Turkish security force members and five PKK militants were killed in clashes and attacks in three areas of eastern Turkey over the last 24 hours, officials said.

Violence also flared again this week in the largely Kurdish southeast. Ten people were killed in bomb attacks, mostly police and soldiers, in an escalation that officials blamed on PKK Kurdish militants.

Turkey began airstrikes against IS in July 2015. A peace process with the PKK collapsed and it also began targeting PKK targets in northern Iraq.