Turkey on Sunday mourned the victims of twin bombings at a peace rally in Ankara that killed at least 95 people, while investigators worked to try to figure out who is responsible the attack.
An updated toll from the prime minister’s office said the blasts that happened Saturday near the main exit of the railway station in the Ulus district also wounded 246 people. That location was presumably intended to cause a high number of deaths among participants at the rally, which was organized by labor and civil society groups.
There was chaos and confusion at the scene of the bombings, where bodies lay strewn on the ground along with clothing and yellow flags of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
Analysts suspect either the Islamic State militant group or Turkish nationalists opposed to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) were behind the attack. No group has claimed responsibility.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, condemned the blasts as a “heinous attack on our unity and our country’s peace.” He canceled his next three days of appointments to focus on the security challenge to Turkey.
U.S. President Barack Obama offered Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu official U.S. condolences. A White House statement said Obama also conveyed “his deepest personal sympathies,” and sought to extend assurances that “Americans stand in solidarity with the people of Turkey in the fight against terrorism.”
Davutoglu said Turkey should unite and act against terrorism, and he called for three days of national mourning. He said there were indications that two suicide bombers had carried out the blasts.
But the prime minister’s appeal for calm and unity fell on deaf ears. Lawmakers from the ruling AKP political party took to Twitter and other social media sites to denounce the Kurds and to claim the bombing was the conspiratorial handiwork of Kurdish separatists, a “provocation” designed to make the government look bad. Others accused the pro-Kurdish HDP party of bombing its own supporters in an effort to boost its electoral appeal.
PKK sympathizers and right-wing politicians accused the AKP or the intelligence services of being responsible, in a bid to whip up fever ahead of the November elections. The HDP leader, Selahattin Demirtas, later described the attack as “by our state on our people.”
Lutfu Turkkan, a nationalist lawmaker, wrote on Twitter that the Ankara attack “was either a failure by the intelligence service, or it was done by the intelligence service.”
None of the accusers came up with any fact-based evidence for their claims, but speculation about who might be behind terrorist incidents has thrived amid the government’s failure to get to the bottom of a string of bombings in southern Turkey over the past three years, analysts said.
The United States condemned what it called a “horrific terrorist attack.” In a statement, National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the fact that the attack occurred ahead of a planned peace rally “underscores the depravity behind it and serves as another reminder of the need to confront shared security challenges in the region.”
Demirtas compared Saturday’s attack to two bombings earlier this year in the mainly Kurdish towns of Diyarbakır and Suruç in southeast Turkey. “We are witnessing a huge massacre,” Demirtas said. “An atrocious and barbarian attack was carried out.”
Islamic State extremists said they were responsible for the explosion in Suruç in July, which killed 33 people. It triggered clashes between Turkish forces and IS militants, with Turkish soldiers and jihadists engaging in cross-border exchanges of gunfire and shelling near the Turkish border town of Kilis.
The PKK announced after the bombings Saturday that it was ordering its fighters to curb activities in Turkey and respond only when they come under attack from Turkish forces.
The Firat news agency reported that the head of the PKK umbrella group said the decision was made in response to calls from within and outside Turkey, and that the group should avoid acts that could disrupt Turkey’s election.
The Turkish government used the Suruç bombing to justify launching airstrikes against Kurdish militant positions in northern Iraq and Syria, arguing it needed to combat all terrorist groups, Kurdish and Islamic. The airstrikes ended a four-year-long peace process between the PKK and Ankara.
Saturday’s bombings will most likely add to a sense of foreboding across a country fearful of more spillover from the war raging in neighboring Syria and the clashes in southeast Turkey between Turkish forces and PKK militants.
The explosions occurred several minutes apart, with the first going off at 10 a.m., the local Dogan news agency reported. A video posted on social media captured one explosion that enveloped young marchers dancing and waving banners. Other video footage showed bodies lying on the ground and survivors trying to help the wounded.
VOA’s Chris Hannas and Mike Richman contributed to this report from Washington.