At least 95 people have been confirmed dead after suspected suicide bombers targeted a rally organized by pro-Kurdish and leftist political groups in Turkey's capital Ankara. Anger is now growing across the country in the aftermath of the worst terror attack in Turkish history.
Two almost simultaneous blasts ripped through a march organized by trade unions and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) close to Ankara's main train station at around 10am local time. Attendees had gathered to protest against the ongoing fighting between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants in the country's majority Kurdish southeast.
The prime minister's office announced the death toll late Saturday, adding that 294 people were injured, including 48 critically.
The attack left body parts strewn across the scene, and the dead and wounded could be seen lying among bloodied placards and banners, many with the HDP's purple and green logo. Two of the group's parliamentary candidates, Abdullah Erol and Kubra Meltem Mollaoglu, were killed. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Hours after the bombing, the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) ordered its fighters to halt operations in Turkey unless they faced attack. The PKK said it would avoid acts that could hinder a "fair and just election," which is scheduled to be held on November 1.
Adnan, 47, a university tutor was standing around 50 meters from where the bombs detonated. He described seeing a group of men and women holding hands while they danced and sung before explosions sent huge flames into the air and almost knocked him off his feet. "I was shaken by the blast, it was a horrible noise," he said, still obviously in shock. He was making his way to a local guesthouse with an unopened bottle of wine in a plastic bag, bought, he said, to calm his nerves.
A still image taken from video footage shows the moment of the explosion at a peace rally in Ankara, Turkey. (Image EPA/doku8HABER)
Bulent, 30, saw the explosions as he returned to the rally after charging his phone in the train station. He travelled from Istanbul to attend along with 28 others, 14 of whom are now dead or injured. "I fell down after the first bomb and then heard another bang and saw flesh all over the ground," he said. "I was saved because my phone battery ran out of charge and I had to go inside. Otherwise I would have been there."
People scattered in all directions after the explosions, and police vehicles — including trucks equipped with water cannons — moved in and closed off the area. A member of trade union KESK who was at the scene said that police blocked medical help from arriving, and used tear gas to disperse panicked and angry marchers.
'I fell down after the first bomb and then heard another bang and saw flesh all over the ground.'
Onur, 33, a member of the Ankara medical association, described organizing the medical response in the immediate aftermath of the blast. "We made two open corridors and then I called all health workers and doctors and they ran there," he recalled. "But there was almost nothing to do by then and nearly 50 people dead there." He too said that the police response delayed access to medical treatment, and that tear gas was fired as first responders tried to help.
The blast site was unnervingly calm by dusk, with approach roads closed off and a subdued police presence standing guard while trucks carried wrecked vehicles from the area. Forensics investigators clad in overalls combed the area for evidence.
Victims were taken to a number of local hospitals, where anxious family and friends regrouped and gathered outside waiting for news. Many clutched mobile phones, calling around to different medical facilities in a desperate attempt to discover the fate of their loved ones.
A large crowd gathered at Numune hospital, where the victims were first taken. Officials called out names of the wounded with a megaphone, surrounded by groups of tearful relatives that clung to each other
Protestors in Istanbul shout slogans against violence as they gather in reaction to the twin blasts in Ankara. (Photo by Sedat Suna/EPA)
Two members of the local HDP executive committee who had helped organize the march waited outside for updates on the statuses of friends and colleagues. Both said they felt the rally was necessary in order to convince both the government and the PKK to end the violence, and they invited people from across the country to attend. Many would not be going back.
"We all lost friends and some are wounded," one said. "Most [people] I saw were injured from the legs down, and some their torsos were shattered."
Volunteers distributed fruit, hot soup, and bread. Others lined up to give blood, and an announcement was made that blankets would be distributed to those who planned to wait overnight to take home their dead.
A nearby morgue held the bodies of at least 35 people who had died at the scene. Staff were overwhelmed and additional teams were due to arrive from Istanbul.
Crowds gathered outside waiting to retrieve the remains of their relatives. Shocked families embraced, while one man crouched alone on a pavement sobbing loudly into his hands. Most expected to be there till morning.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) launched a twin-pronged "war on terror" in July, which was billed as focusing on both the Islamic State and the PKK. But the campaign has targeted the Kurdish militants almost exclusively, and the Turkish military has launched a series of airstrikes on the group's camps in the southeast and in northern Iraq, killing hundreds. The PKK retaliated with a wave of bloody attacks on security forces that threatened a return to a three decade fight for autonomy that killed more than 40,000 people.
An anti-government protest was held in Istanbul after the bombings in Ankara. (Photo by Sedat Suna/EPA)
Deadly bombings also targeted a group of pro-Kurdish activists in Suruc and HDP rally in Diyarbakir earlier this year. The group's co-chair, Selahattin Demirtas, accused the state of responsibility for today's attack. "The perpetrators of Diyarbakir and Suruc have not been found and AKP are the ones responsible for carrying out these investigations," he said, describing it as "the biggest supporter of terror" in a speech reported by Turkey's Hurriyet Daily.
It was an opinion shared by a number of marchers and activists. "It's impossible that two people can go there and do this kind of attack and the government not know," Onur said. Many others agreed. In Istanbul, hundreds of protesters marched toward the city's central Taksim square chanting anti-government slogans and blaming President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the violence.
Ankara mayor and AKP member Melih Gokcek suggested that the bombing was carried out by the PKK or one of its subgroups in an effort to boost HDP support. "The Diyarbakir attack was made in order to increase the votes for HDP… the perpetrator of the attack is the one who is benefitting from the attack," he said, according to local media.
Erdogan also attacked his Kurdish political opponents. "We are all against terror and we condemn this attack," he said in a statement, going to say that "the biggest supporters of terror are those who act with a double standard against terrorist attacks and terrorist organizations," in remarks seemingly aimed at the HDP, which he has repeatedly accused of being linked to the PKK. "The terror attacks targeting civilians today is no different to the attacks targeting our soldiers and police officers."
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