Turkey ‘must stand united’, says Mogherini

Demonstration against Turkey's military campaign against the PKK. European Commission, 9 October. [Joel Schalit/Flickr]

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini urged Turkey on Saturday (10 October) to “stand united” against terrorists and all threats against the country after an attack on a rally in Ankara killed up to 128 people.

“Turkish people and all political forces must stand united against terrorists and against all those who try to destabilise a country that is facing many threats,” Mogherini said in a joint statement with European Union enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn.

“We stand by all people in Turkey who work together to counter violence and terrorism,” the EU officials stated.

“Our partnership and engagement with the Turkish authorities and Turkish society is stronger than ever, at all levels,” they added.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also criticised the bombing.

“I strongly condemn the terrorist attack in the centre of Ankara that killed and injured dozens of people,” said the head of the Brussels-based military alliance of which Turkey is a member.

“There can be no justification for such a horrendous attack on people marching for peace,” he said.

Turkey is targeting Islamic State in investigations of the double suicide bombing in Ankara that killed up to 128 people, officials said yesterday (11 October), while opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an blamed the government for the worst such attack in Turkish history.

Government officials made clear that despite alarm over the attack on a rally of pro-Kurdish activists and civic groups, there would be no postponement of November polls Erdo?an hopes can restore an overall majority for the AK Party he founded.

Thousands of people gathered near the scene of the attack at Ankara’s main railway station, many accusing Erdo?an of stirring nationalist sentiment by his pursuit of a military campaign against Kurdish militants, a charge Ankara vehemently rejects.

“Murderer Erdo?an”, “murderer police”, the crowd chanted in Sihhiye square, as riot police backed by water cannon vehicles blocked a main highway leading to the district where parliament and government buildings are located.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a major presence at Saturday’s march and holding seats in parliament, said police attacked its leaders and members as they tried to leave carnations at the scene. Some were hurt in the melee, it said in a statement.

The attacks have shocked a nation beset by resurgent conflict with the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in its southeast and increasingly threatened by spillover from the war in neighboring Syria.

Islamic State fighters are encamped close to its borders, which also mark the frontier of the NATO alliance, and last week Russia launched air strikes in Syria, its planes violating Turkish air space on several occasions.

Suruc bombing similarities

Two senior security sources said initial signs suggested Islamic State was behind the Ankara attack, and that it bore striking similarity to a July suicide bombing in Suruc near the Syrian border, also blamed on the radical Islamists.

>> Read: Suicide bomber strikes Turkish border town as Syrian war spills over

“All signs indicate that the attack may have been carried out by ISIL (Islamic State). We are completely focused on ISIL,” one of the sources told Reuters.

CHP opposition leader Ahmet K?l?çdaro?lu, speaking after a meeting with Prime Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu, said he had been told both suicide bombers were men.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said police detained 43 suspects in operations targeting the Islamic State across Turkey, from Sanliurfa in the southeast, to Izmir in the west, and Antalya on the south coast. It was not clear when they were held.

The Haberturk newspaper reported police sources as saying that the type of explosive and the choice of target pointed to a group within Islamic State known as the ‘Adiyaman ones’, referring to Adiyaman province in southeast Turkey.

Turkey is vulnerable to infiltration by Islamic State, which holds swathes of Syrian land abutting Turkey, where some two million refugees live. But the group, not normally reticent about its attacks, made no claim to the Suruc bombing, and has made no reference to the Ankara attack in internet postings

The HDP, which expanded beyond its Kurdish voter base and drew in mainly left-wing opponents of Erdo?an at June elections, said the death toll had risen to 128, and that it had identified all but eight of the bodies.

The prime minister’s office said late on Saturday that 95 people had been killed.

The scale of the casualties eclipsed attacks blamed on al Qaeda in 2003 when two synagogues, the Istanbul HSBC Bank headquarters and the British consulate were hit, killing 62 people. Questions have been raised over whether a parliamentary election due on 1 November can be safely held.

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