Turkey blames ISIS for wedding attack that killed 50

Attack appeared to be a suicide bombing

People carry dead bodies into ambulances after an explosion in Gaziantep, southeastern Turkey, early Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016. A bomb attack targeting an outdoor wedding party in southeastern Turkey killed several people and wounded dozens. Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek said the "barbaric" attack in Gaziantep, near the border with Syria, on Saturday appeared to be a suicide bombing. (DHA via AP)

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s president on Sunday blamed the Islamic State group for the bombing of an outdoor wedding party in the southeast that killed 50 people and wounded dozens of others.

Officials say Saturday’s attack in Gaziantep, near Syria’s border, appeared to be a suicide bombing.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a statement early Sunday denouncing the “heinous” bombing and saying that IS was “the most likely perpetrator of the Gaziantep attack.”

People gather after an explosion in Gaziantep, southeastern Turkey, early Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016. Gaziantep Province Gov. Ali Yerlikaya said the deadly blast, during a wedding near the border with Syria, was a terror attack. (Eyyup Burun/DHA via AP)e
People gather after an explosion in Gaziantep, southeastern Turkey, early Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016. Gaziantep Province Gov. Ali Yerlikaya said the deadly blast, during a wedding near the border with Syria, was a terror attack. (Eyyup Burun/DHA via AP)e

The initial death toll was 30 killed and 94 wounded. Later, the Gaziantep governor’s office raised the toll to 50, without giving a number of wounded, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. It is the deadliest extremist attack of 2016.

Turkey has been rocked by a wave of attacks in the past year that have either been claimed by Kurdish militants linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party — known by its acronym PKK — or were blamed on IS. In June, suspected IS militants attacked Istanbul’s main airport with guns and bombs, killing 44 people.

The attack comes as the country is still reeling from last month’s failed coup attempt, which the government has blamed on U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and his followers. Gulen denies any involvement.

Erdogan said there was “absolutely no difference” between IS, Kurdish rebels and Gulen’s movement, calling them terrorist groups.

“These bloodthirsty organizations and the powers behind them have neither the will nor power to silence the calls to prayer, lower the flag, divide our motherland and break up our nation,” he added.

Earlier this week, a string of bombings blamed on the PKK that targeted police and soldiers killed at least a dozen people. A fragile, 2 ½ year-long peace process between the PKK and the government collapsed last year, leading to a resumption of the three-decade-long conflict.

In Gaziantep, Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek and the country’s health minister visited the wounded and inspected the site of the attack.

“This is a massacre of unprecedented cruelty and barbarism,” he told reporters. “We … are united against all terror organizations. They will not yield.”

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim condemned the bombing, which he said turned “a wedding party into a place of mourning” and he vowed to prevail over the “devilish” attacks.

Police sealed off the site of the explosion and forensic teams moved in. Anadolu agency reports bodies were already being brought to the Gaziantep Forensic Medicine Institute morgue.

Hundreds of residents gathered near the site chanting “Allah is great” as well as slogans denouncing attacks.

Turkish authorities issued a media blackout on coverage of the attack until the investigation is completed.

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Suzan Fraser contributed to this report from Ankara.

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