Turkey suicide bomb victims 'mostly children'

Funeral for victim of suicide attack in Gaziantep, south-eastern Turkey. 21 Aug 2016 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Funerals were held on Sunday for those victims identified so far

Most of the victims of the bombing of a Kurdish wedding party in the Turkish city of Gaziantep on Saturday were children, media reports say.

Twenty-nine victims were under the age of 18, reports said, with one official saying 22 were under the age of 14. The death toll rose to 54 on Monday.

The suicide bomber himself was a child aged 12-14, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.

Mr Erdogan has blamed so-called Islamic State (IS) for the attack.

Gaziantep, near the Syrian border, is known to contain several IS cells.

One woman lost four children in the attack, the Haberturk newspaper reported. Emine Arhan told the title "if it wasn't for my only surviving child, I would have killed myself".

Another victim was a nine-year-old girl who had stayed on at the party to see the bride after her parents had left, according to the Vatan newspaper.

A disproportionately large number of women and children were killed in the attack because it targeted henna night, a part of the celebration attended mainly by women and children, says BBC Monitoring's Turkey analyst Pinar Sevinclidir.

On Monday, Turkish officials were awaiting the results of DNA tests as they tried to identify the suicide attacker, the Hurriyet newspaper said.

It added that the type of bomb, which contained scraps of metal, was similar to those used in previous attacks on pro-Kurdish gatherings.

Kurdish fighters, backed by the US-led coalition, have been at the forefront of the fight against IS in Syria.

At the scene: Mark Lowen, BBC News, Gaziantep

We don't yet know the nationality of the attacker - Syrian, Turkish or other - but his generation has grown up formed by the Syrian conflict which tore away his childhood innocence and instilled in him the desire to kill.

There is still no official claim of responsibility for the attack but the group calling itself Islamic State remains the prime suspect.

The group is facing the loss of territory close to the Turkish border at the hands of Kurdish forces in Manbij and also a potential operation in Jarablus by the Free Syria Army - this could be an attempt to hit back.

It's also a reminder that their cells are still active in Turkey and they can strike with devastating impact.

Prosecutors said a search was also under way for two people believed to have accompanied the suspected attacker to the wedding party but who left before the blast.

In a defiant speech on Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said IS should be "completely cleansed" from the border area with Turkey.

He was speaking amid reports that Turkish-backed Syrian rebels were preparing to try to seize the IS-held border town of Jarablus.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The suicide bomb was packed with scraps of metal
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Many relatives were overcome with grief at Sunday's funerals

The death toll from the bombing rose to 54 after three critically injured people died in hospital early on Monday. Thirteen of those killed were women, Turkish media said. Sixty-six people are still in hospital, 14 of them in a serious condition, Dogan news agency reported.

Image copyright Twitter

Officials gave no details of the victims, but in a tweet, New York Times reporter Ceylan Yeginsu listed the ages of those identified so far.

There were emotional scenes as dozens of funerals for victims took place on Sunday. Some distraught relatives threw themselves on to the coffins.

'Body parts everywhere'

The explosion happened as wedding guests danced in the street on Saturday evening in a predominantly Kurdish district of Gaziantep.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), said the wedding had been for one of its members.

The bride and bridegroom, from the mainly Kurdish region of Siirt in the south-east, survived the blast but were among the injured.

Witness Veli Can, 25, said that the celebrations were coming to an end when the explosion ripped through a crowd of people dancing.

"There was blood and body parts everywhere," he said.

Mr Erdogan said IS had been trying to "position itself" in Gaziantep, which is a major hub for Syrian refugees.

In a written statement, he said there was "no difference" between IS, the Kurdish militants of the PKK, and followers of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he blames for the coup attempt last month.

Deadliest recent attacks on civilians in Turkey

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