A suicide attack targeting activists in a town on Turkey’s Syrian border has killed at least 30 people and wounded scores more, according to the Turkish interior ministry.
The activists, mostly students, in Suruc – a mainly Kurdish town – were set to go to Kobane, located about 10km away inside Syria, in an effort to rebuild the town
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Kobane has seen fierce fighting between Syrian Kurdish forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in recent months.
The blast happened outside a cultural centre, where members of the Federation of Socialist Youth Associations (SGDF), the organiser of the event, were making a press statement.
Actor Murat Akdag, who witnessed the incident, told Al Jazeera from Suruc that he noticed nothing suspicious that hinted at an imminent attack.
“I was only two metres away from the blast. We were 150 to 200 people. The blast hit the centre of the crowd just after the press statement,” he said.
“I was on the side the crowd. Therefore, I was not harmed.”
A footage on the Dogan News Agency website showed activists gathered under SGDF banner and chanting slogans just before the blast hit the group.
Other footage and social media photos showed dead bodies lying on the ground.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the attack as “an act of terror”.
Izzettin Kucuk, the governor of Sanliurfa, where Suruc is located, said a suicide bombing was suspected.
“It was a suicide bomber … . But we don’t know the identity yet. Security forces are working on the issue,” he said.
Thousands of Syrian refugees are sheltered in camps around Suruc.
“We were planning to take 200 people to Kobane, but the governorship allowed 50 people to cross the border. The group was planning to leave in the [Monday] evening, but could not,” Akdag, the witness, told Al Jazeera.
“This was an effort to do whatever we could to rebuild Kobane, from rehabilitation of children and social activities to help with the construction and health services. We were carrying toys and supplies there. I was going to perform a play. “
Flow of refugees
Turkey’s Western allies have been demanding tougher measures against ISIL, including tighter controls on its 822km-long border with Syria, where there is ISIL presence.
According to the UN numbers, there are more than 1.8 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, which makes monitoring a hard task.
“Suruc is located just across the border from Kobane. Kobane is a very emotional place for Kurds as they fought ISIL at this particular town, standing their ground,” Andrew Finkel, a foreign correspondent who has been based in Turkey for over 20 years, told Al Jazeera.
“The people attending the youth club, where the explosion happened, were volunteering their services for their brothers across the Syrian border. So this is an attack at the heart of the empathy Kurds in Turkey feel for their brothers.”
Kobane witnessed fierce battles between Kurdish fighters controlling the town and ISIL until February. The town is still a target of suspected ISIL attacks.
Some Turkish Kurds and the pro-Kurdish left-wing People’s Democracy Party (HDP) accused the government for taking a pro-ISIL position, particularly during the siege of Kobane.
“In the beginning [of the Syrian crisis], Turkey seemed to have the attitude ‘enemy [ISIL] of my enemy [Syrian government] is my friend’. However, it recently appeared to be more responsive to the NATO demands. Maybe this terrible incident was a reaction to this,” Finkel said.
Monday’s blast in Suruc came as another explosion went off in Kobane with conflicting accounts given as to the cause.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said it was caused by a car bomb targeting a checkpoint operated by the Syrian Kurdish forces who control the town.