ANKARA/ISTANBUL (REUTERS/AFP) - At least 50 people were killed and dozens more wounded late on Saturday (Aug 21), in an attack possibly carried out by a suicide bomber on a wedding party in the Turkish city of Gaziantep near the Syrian border, officials said, in an attack that added to a surge in violence this week in the mainly Kurdish south-east.
“The number of those killed in the terrorist bombings is, as of today, 50,” the office of Governor Ali Yerlikaya said in a statement, raising a previous toll of 30. "We condemn the traitors who organised and carried out this attack," he said earlier, vowing that those responsible would be "brought to account".
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday (Aug 21) said the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was the "likely perpetrator" of the bomb attack. He said in a written statement that there was "no difference" between the group of United States-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who he blames for a failed July 15 coup bid, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) "and Daesh (ISIS), the likely perpetrator of the attack in Gaziantep".
The attack appeared to have hit when a large group of people from a wedding party took to the streets in celebration, security sources said. The explosion took place in the Sahinbey district of the city which is said to have a large number of Kurdish residents. Reports said the wedding had a strong Kurdish presence.
Ambulances raced to the scene and video footage from broadcaster CNN Turk showed police and emergency services workers rushing through packed streets in the city.
Images from the scene showed bodies covered in white sheets while distraught relatives of the victims were comforted in the street.
“The celebrations were coming to an end and there was a big explosion among people dancing,” said 25-year-old witness Veli Can.“There was blood and body parts everywhere.”
On Sunday morning, smashed garage doors and windows could be seen at the site of the blast.
"Our country and our nation have again only one message to those who attack us - you will not succeed!" Mr Erdogan said, adding that PKK attacks on security forces had claimed 70 lives in the last month alone. He said that the aim of attacks like Gaziantep was to sow division between different groups in Turkey such as Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen and "spread incitement along ethnic and religious lines".
Turkey would not give in to the "provocation" of the Gaziantep attack and would instead show "unity, togetherness and brotherhood", he added.
Earlier, Mr Samil Tayyar, a member of Parliament from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said on Twitter that ISIS militants were thought to be behind the attack, while Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek told broadcaster NTV the blast appeared to be the work of a suicide bomber.
"We wish God's mercy for those who have lost their lives in this cruel attack, and for the injured, a quick recovery," the Gaziantep provincial governor's office said in a statement, confirming the death toll. "We strongly condemn this cruel terror attack and those carrying it out."
Mr Mehmet Erdogan, an AKP lawmaker for Gaziantep, said it was not clear who was responsible for the explosion but there was a "high possibility" it was a suicide attack.
The lawmaker added that it was the type of attack that could have been launched by ISIS or the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Mr Mahmut Togrul, a member of Parliament for Gaziantep from Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, told Reuters it was a Kurdish wedding. ISIS has been blamed for suicide bombings on Kurdish gatherings in the past.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) said its members had been present at the wedding, which was also attended by many women and children.
"The aim of terror is to scare the people but we will not allow this," said Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek, who also represents Gaziantep in the Turkish Parliament, adding that a suicide bombing was the likely cause.
As has been the case in previous attacks, Turkey's broadcasting regulator RTUK banned broadcast of footage from the scene of the attack in Gaziantep.
Information and Communication Agency (BTK) head Omer Fatih Sayan told state-run Anadolu news agency that those sharing images of the bombing would face prosecution.
The explosion is the latest attack to have rocked the key Nato member in a horrific year that has seen a string of strikes blamed on Kurdish and Islamist militants as well as a bloody July 15 botched coup.
Turkey faces multiple security threats from ISIS militants at home and across the border with neighbouring Syria as well as from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
A group of rogue Turkish soldiers last month attempted to overthrow the government, commandeering tanks, helicopters and warplanes in an attempted putsch that killed 240 people. The Ankara government has blamed on followers of the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, but Gulen has denied the charge.
Three suspected ISIS suicide bombers killed 44 people at Istanbul's main airport in June, the deadliest in a string of attacks in Turkey this year.
Violence flared up again this past week in the largely Kurdish south-east, with bomb attacks leaving 10 people dead in separate attacks, mostly the police and soldiers, in an escalation that officials blamed on Kurdish PKK militants.
Turkey's restive south-east has been hit by a wave of violence since the collapse of a 2.5-year ceasefire with the PKK in July last year. The PKK has since carried out dozens of attacks on police and military posts in the largely Kurdish region.