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Turkey seeks to identify child suicide bomber

AFP , Monday 22 Aug 2016
IS group militants
File photo released on April 25, 2015, by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, young boys known as the "lion cubs" hold rifles and Islamic State group flags as they exercise at a training camp in Tal Afar, near Mosul, northern Iraq (Photo: AP)
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Turkish authorities were on Monday scrambling to identify a child suicide bomber acting on the orders of Islamic State (IS) jihadists who killed 54 people at a crowded Kurdish wedding close to the Syrian border.

The attack late Saturday on a street wedding in the city of Gaziantep was latest in a devastating series of bombings in Turkey at a time when the country is riven by internal upheaval and shaken by the civil war in neighbouring Syria.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the bomber was aged "between 12 and 14" and that initial findings showed it had been "perpetrated by Daesh (IS)".

Media said the majority of those dead were children or teenagers, with 29 of the 44 victims identified so far aged under 18. At least 22 victims were under 14, a Turkish official added.

There were no further details on the bomber, but Erdogan said IS had been trying to "position itself" in Gaziantep, which lies just 60 kilometres (37 miles) north of Syria and is a major hub for refugees from the over five-year civil war.

The death toll rose to 54 after three of those in the most critical condition died in hospital in the early morning, the Dogan news agency reported.

Sixty-six people were still in hospital, 14 of them in a serious condition.

The Hurriyet daily said that DNA tests were under way to ascertain the identity, nationality and gender of the bomber.

It is possible that the bomber had come over the border from Syria but IS is also known to have built homegrown cells inside Turkey in Gaziantep and even Istanbul, wrote its well-connected columnist Abdulkadir Selvi.

He said Turkish security forces believed that attack had been timed as retaliation by jihadists for offensives both by Kurdish militias and pro-Ankara Syrian opposition forces against IS in Syria.

"There's a fight against IS but we are paying the price," he wrote.

The leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas said in a statement that "all of those killed were Kurds".

The bride and groom -- a couple from the strongly Kurdish region of Siirt to the southeast -- were rushed to hospital but not seriously wounded.

The attack followed a string of strikes blamed on IS and Kurdish militants in the last months but was the deadliest so far this year and first significant jihadist action in Turkey since the failed July 15 coup.

Erdogan said that in his view all "terror" groups are the same, be it the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, the supporters of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who he blames for the coup or IS.

Despite the gravity of the attack, pro-government Turkish TV channels had returned to a normal agenda Monday focusing as much on the defeat of the coup over a month ago as the Gaziantep attack.

Hurriyet said the type of bomb used -- stuffed with scraps of metal -- was similar to the explosives used in previous suicide bombings against pro-Kurdish gatherings blamed on IS in the border town of Suruc and at Ankara train station last year.

A suicide vest was also found at the scene, according to prosecutors.

The authorities were also looking for two individuals said to have accompanied the suspected suicide bomber into the wedding party but who then left the scene.

All 44 victims identified so far were laid to rest in harrowing ceremonies in Gaziantep on Sunday with relatives throwing themselves on the coffins in desperation, an AFP correspondent said.

The hillside graveyard was pock-marked before the ceremony with the holes of dozens of freshly dug graves for the victims.

One mother, Emine Ayhan, lost four of her five children in the bombing while her husband is in intensive care, the Yeni Safak daily said.

According to the list of victims in Turkish media, the youngest -- named as Gurbet Akcan and Muhammet Yagiz -- were both aged four. There was one Syrian among the dead, Husam Cuma, aged 7.

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