Twin bomb blasts on Saturday killed 86 people gathering for a pro-Kurdish peace rally in the Turkish capital, Ankara, in the worst attack in Turkey’s modern history.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said two suicide bombers were believed to have carried out the attack but they had yet to be identified.
The government strongly condemned the “terrorist attack,” which injured 186 people, of whom 28 remain in intensive care, according to figures from Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack, which came three weeks before snap general elections set for November 1 and the G20 heads-of-government summit later next month, raising security concerns.
The attack had echoes of a bombing in Suruc, southern Turkey, in July, which killed 34 people at a pro-Kurdish gathering and shattered a two-year ceasefire between Kurdish militants and the state. That attack too was not claimed, but Turkey blamed the Islamic State militant group.
Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) which supported the peace rally, held the Turkish government accountable for the simultaneous explosions in Ankara.
“This is an attack by the state against the people,” he said, referring to a “massacre.”
The party, which was also critical of the government over the Suruc attack, accused the police of not securing the rally in the capital and attacking demonstrators with tear gas when they aided the wounded.
The HDP said the blasts appear to have been carried out by suicide bombers.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a statement condemning the “heinous attack” and said investigations are under way. He pledged the perpetrators would be brought to justice.
Davutoglu announced three days of national mourning and convened a high-level security meeting with the police and intelligence services.
Videos on social media captured the moment of the first explosion: Young men and women were singing, dancing and waving banners as a massive fireball erupted, causing chaos.
Some of the bodies lay on the streets, covered by the flags and banners of various trade unions and leftist groups, including the HDP, involved in organizing the rally.
Blood pockets stained the asphalt, which was also scattered with debris, including shrapnel, from the blasts.
Ambulances ferried the wounded to hospitals amid scenes of panic in the area of the train station, where the blasts went off.
The blasts were so strong one witness described being “thrown in the air for 2 or 3 metres.”
The peace rally was called ahead of upcoming elections and after violence erupted in July between the Turkish Army and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group, ending a two-year ceasefire.
The PKK, in a statement issued shortly after the blasts, called on its militants to halt all further armed actions against the state, unless attacked. There had been reports the group planned such a call ahead of the election, but the government snubbed the proposal.
It remained to be seen how the conflict with the PKK, which says it is fighting for greater rights for the Kurdish minority, would now play out.
Hundreds have died in the past 10 weeks, mostly in the south-east, including members of the security forces, militants and civilians. Turkey has also been launching airstrikes against PKK bases in northern Iraq.
Meanwhile, Kurdish fighters linked to the PKK have been the most potent force on the ground in Syria battling the extremist group.
Demirtas, the Kurdish leader, drew a line between the incident and the Suruc attack and a double blast at an HDP rally in Diyarbakir, a mostly Kurdish city two days before June parliamentary elections, which killed four people.
The HDP has been critical of the security crackdown in the south-east while calling for all sides to refrain from violence as Turkish nationalists’ anger towards the PKK has been growing.
Rallies denouncing Saturday’s bombings were held in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and other cities in the evening. While protesters in Istanbul called for peace, they also condemned Erdogan by chanting, “Thief! Murderer! Erdogan!” and urged the PKK to take action with shouts of “Revenge, PKK!”
The attack was also condemned outside Turkey, which is a NATO member.
“There can be no justification for such a horrendous attack on people marching for peace,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.
“All NATO allies stand united in the fight against the scourge of terrorism,” he said.
“The fact that this attack occurred ahead of a planned rally for peace underscores the depravity of those behind it and serves as another reminder of the need to confront shared security challenges in the region,” US National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said.
The conflict between the state and the PKK, ongoing since 1984, has left more than 40,000 dead, primarily in the south-east, which has a mostly Kurdish population. The minority group makes up at least 15 per cent of the population.