Turkish Officials Say At Least 54 Killed, Scores Injured In Wedding Bombing
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There's been another deadly attack in Turkey. Turkish President Ergodan says a suicide bomber who was between 12 and 14 years old blew himself up at a wedding party not far from the Syrian border. At least 51 people died, and scores more were wounded. The president blamed ISIS for the attack. NPR's Peter Kenyon is following the story from Istanbul, and he joins us now. Good morning, Peter.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: What can you tell us about what happened?
KENYON: Well, this was down in Gaziantep. It's a city very near the Syrian border. The wedding was in a heavily Kurdish neighborhood. These are usually large affairs, and witnesses said there were hundreds of people there to celebrate. And around 11 p.m., the bomb exploded and the death toll was very heavy. You know, it wasn't that long ago that ISIS, who's suspected here, is - largely was staying away from attacking Turkey. But recently, Turkish cooperation in the anti-ISIS fighting that's going on down in northern Syria has gotten closer and more intense, and ISIS has declared Turkey an enemy. And they've carried out several bombings across the country.
MARTIN: But Turkey seems to have no shortage of enemies these days. What makes officials so sure that ISIS carried this out?
KENYON: Well, it is a suspicion, not guaranteed, but - and certainly it's true, there's a lot of enemies out there. Turks with a dark sense of humor tend to say, you know, the terror groups are just taking turns these days. No, these - this bombing last night happened just after a week of attacks carried out by Kurdish militants from the PKK. The Kurdish Workers' Party resumed fighting last summer after peace talks failed.
And there's been left-wing groups that have done these things as well, but this time they think ISIS was behind it because of the target, a wedding. PKK, when they do it, it's usually a military or police target. There are civilian casualties, often. But ISIS seems to aim at these things. They go for the soft targets, aiming for maximum civilian bloodshed. And that's why they think this Gaziantep attack was ISIS.
MARTIN: This horrible thing comes at what is already a difficult time for Turkey, right? It's after - in the wake of this massive military and government purge that happened in the wake of the failed coup attempt last month. So how are Turks feeling right now? Do they feel like their government is still capable of protecting them?
KENYON: There's some doubt. It's a very difficult time, indeed. I mean, this wave of bombings coming right after this failed coup, a time when the military's already demoralized and badly shaken. Many police have been sacked. The intelligence services, they're getting their own shake-up. So there's questions about Turkey's ability to predict and maybe prevent these attacks.
There's been some signs that have people worried. There's a spike in migrant crossings to Greece since the coup attempt, suggesting to some that the police are stretched kind of thin. You know, the government says, no, we're fully prepared, we're doing everything needed, we're keeping people safe. But, you know, Turks say this is a pretty worrying time.
MARTIN: And lastly, Vice President Joe Biden is heading to Turkey this week. He's trying to shore up a relationship that has been kind of fraught recently. Is he likely to succeed?
KENYON: Well, this is a great question. He'll be visiting a place where anti-American sentiment is running quite high. Many Turks think America had some kind of role in the coup and, at the very least, they think is protecting the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen that Turkey says was behind it. Both Gulen and the U.S. deny having any involvement, of course. But it's interesting to note that the Turkish government here isn't doing much to discourage these theories and public sentiments, anti-American ones. So we're going to have to see how Biden is treated on this visit, kind of looking for clues as to whether the hostility is just at the street level or higher up as well. And the big question, of course, is will the U.S. extradite this cleric, Fethullah Gulen?
MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Thanks, Peter.
KENYON: Thanks, Rachel.
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