Islamic State the focus as Turkey probes weekend blast, premier says

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Istanbul (dpa) – The Islamic State group is the focus of authorities’ investigations in the wake of twin blasts that killed at least 97 people in the capital, Ankara, at the weekend, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Monday.

Two male suicide bombers are believed to have carried out the Saturday attacks upon a pro-Kurdish peace rally, the government says. No group officially claimed responsibility.

Davutoglu, speaking in an interview with broadcaster NTV, said authorities are also looking into possible involvement of Kurdish militants and armed leftist groups.

The country’s largest Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has repeatedly rejected the idea that the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) would have bombed the peace rally in Ankara.

The HDP and anti-government protests taking place across the country have been pointing fingers at the authorities, accusing them of failing to protect the rally. Amid a national outpouring of grief and anger, several of the funerals continuing into Monday saw crowds chanting against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The lack of clarity about the culprit behind the almost simultaneous blasts – the deadliest attack in the country’s modern history – is fueling a sense of uncertainty and feeding recriminations.

The suicide bombings took place just three weeks before the country heads to snap elections, raising security concerns. Turkey is also set to host the G20 head of governments summit next month.

“The main issue right now is to conclude the investigations. To shed light on how this happened and what exactly happened on Saturday. Based on this, we will have a better idea of how to move forward,” a government official told dpa.

The official said the state had heightened security at key sites, including airports, following the bombings.

Davutoglu’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has suspended campaigning until Friday.

The HDP, meanwhile, is considering how to proceed with public campaign events, following the latest in a spate of attacks that has hit the party hard.

Twin bomb blasts at an HDP rally just two days before the last election in June left four dead. In July, a pro-Kurdish youth gathering in Suruc, southern Turkey, was attacked by a suicide bomber, killing 34.

The June elections resulted in a hung parliament, leading Erdogan to announce fresh polls set for November 1.

The HDP ran for the first time in June and entered parliament, thereby denying the AKP a majority for the first time since it swept to power in 2002. Tensions between the parties remain high.

Erdogan had hoped the AKP, which he founded, would get enough seats to change the country’s constitution and empower his office.

Opinion polls carried out prior to the Ankara attack indicated the AKP could again fail to secure an outright majority. It remained unclear how the latest bombing could influence public opinion.

The July bombing in Suruc, which the authorities have blamed on the Islamic State militant group, set off a chain of events that shattered a two-year ceasefire between the state and the PKK. Hundreds have since died inside Turkey.

No group claimed responsibility for the Suruc bombing either. Human rights groups and the HDP have been critical of the lack of information on the government’s investigations.

Kurdish fighters in Syria affiliated with the PKK are the main force on the ground in Syria pushing back the Islamic State, with help from US-led airstrikes. The US views the PKK as a terrorist group, but works together with its sister wing in Syria, the YPG.

There is concern the Kurds’ war against the Islamic State group is spilling over into Turkey.

Meanwhile, the PKK over the weekend said it would refrain from militant activities inside Turkey unless attacked. However, violence has persisted in the country’s south-east. The government last week snubbed rumours of the PKK’s proposal, saying security operations would continue.

The military carried out airstrikes during the weekend against the PKK in northern Iraq and also said Monday it killed 17 members of the group in Hakkari, south-eastern Turkey, in an aerial operation.

The ceasefire the PKK announced in 2013 was part of a wider peace process between the state and the militant group, which says it is fighting for Kurdish rights and greater autonomy for the minority group. The negotiations stagnated earlier this year.

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