ISTANBUL • The Turkish authorities yesterday scrambled to identify a child suicide bomber who, acting on the orders of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, killed 54 people at a crowded Kurdish wedding close to the Syrian border.
The attack on Saturday on a street wedding in the city of Gaziantep was the 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.
The device used in the attack was the same type used in 2015 attacks on a peace rally in Ankara and on the border district of Suruc, a senior security official said yesterday.
Both the Ankara and Suruc attacks were blamed on ISIS, reinforcing the suspicion that the militant group was also behind the Gaziantep bombing, the official said.
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 (ISIS)".
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 Mr Erdogan said ISIS had been trying to "position itself" in Gaziantep, which lies just 60km north of Syria and is a major hub for refugees from the more than five-year-long civil war.
The death toll rose to 54 after three of those in the most critical condition died in hospital later, the Dogan news agency reported. Sixty-six people were still in hospital, 14 of them in a serious condition.
The Hurriyet Daily News 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 ISIS 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 the attack had been timed as retaliation by militants for offensives both by Kurdish militias and pro-Ankara Syrian opposition forces against ISIS in Syria.
"There's a fight against IS but we are paying the price," he wrote, using another acronym for the group.
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 south-east - were rushed to hospital but not seriously wounded.
The attack followed a string of strikes blamed on ISIS and Kurdish militants in the last months, but was the deadliest so far this year and the first significant terror action in Turkey since the failed July 15 coup.
Mr Erdogan said that in his view all "terror" groups are the same, be it the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party - supporters of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen whom he blames for the coup - or ISIS.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS