10 October 2015, WSJ: Turkish Capital Ankara Hit by Explosions, Killing at Least 95

Ankara Suicide Attack Plunges Turkey Deeper Into Turmoil, Hardens Political Divide

Death toll rises to 97 in Saturday bombings

By Emre Peker in Istanbul and Ayla Albayrak in Ankara, Turkey

Oct. 11, 2015

Weekend suicide bombings that killed at least 97 people in the Turkish capital deepened turmoil and political polarization in a country that is central to both the battle against extremist group Islamic State and the migrant crisis in Europe.

On Sunday, protesters assembled a short distance from the site of the worst terror attack in Turkey's [1] modern history. They occasionally broke into antigovernment chants, calling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a "murderer" as they accused the state of failing to prevent the assault.

No group has claimed responsibility for the bombings, which threatened to further destabilize a key U.S. and NATO ally already reeling from months of civil strife between Kurdish separatists and security forces. Turkish officials said the main suspects are Islamic State, the Kurdish separatist group PKK and left-wing militants. Security officials said the attack bore the hallmarks of two other recent strikes that authorities blamed on Islamic State-linked militants from Turkey.

"There were too many wounded, tens of dead, body pieces scattered around, and people screaming," said Onder Bayindir, who was among demonstrators in front of Ankara's train station in the immediate aftermath of the blasts. "People were dying as we tried to help them, collapsing in our hands as we waited for ambulances," said Mr. Bayindir, who had also volunteered in a nearby hospital. "We didn't know what to do. We were also in shock."

Political leaders traded barbs over the attack, a sign that political divisions were hardening ahead of Nov. 1 elections. [2]

"The state wasn't able to prevent a massacre right in the middle of Ankara," Selahattin Demirtas, head of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, or HDP, said at Sunday's rally. "Instead, it enabled it," he said, accusing the government of allowing the attack.

The four unions and associations that organized Saturday's peace march accused Mr. Erdogan and his allies of dragging the country into a civil war for political gain. They declared a two-day strike.

The PKK resumed hostilities after June elections, when the ruling party backed by Mr. Erdogan lost its 13-year majority. The pro-Kurdish HDP doubled its support to enter parliament for the first time by wooing Kurdish voters away from the president's parliamentary allies.

The opposition accuses the president and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of intentionally stoking violence with the Kurds so their party can regain the parliamentary majority they lost in the June election. That vote resulted in a hung parliament and Mr. Erdogan called snap elections after months of fruitless talks to form a coalition government.

"Our government and the president have fueled the tension to this point," shopkeeper Bulent Eker said Sunday in downtown Ankara as he watched demonstrators chanting outside his shop. "Innocent people are punished because of political ambitions and games."

Mr. Davutoglu accused Mr. Demirtas, the pro-Kurdish party leader, of whitewashing PKK terrorism, inciting hatred and attempting to spark a civil war in Turkey with baseless claims.

"No politician in a modern state anywhere in the world would turn and blame his state when faced with a terrorist attack such as this one. He would blame terrorists," the prime minister said.

The president and his allies reject the opposition's allegations, instead accusing the pro-Kurdish party of supporting terrorism to bolster its electoral gains. Mr. Erdogan and the government have called for unity against terrorist attacks as Turkey fights a two-front war against the PKK and Islamic State.

"The attack appears likely to exacerbate the already deep cleavages in an already dangerously divided society," said Wolfango Piccoli, a managing director at New York-based political risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence.

Saturday's bombing was the third deadly attack on civilian gatherings since June. Security officials said two male suicide bombers had carried out the attack, using TNT explosives packed with metal ball bearings to boost the destructiveness of the bombs.

The first of two previous attacks targeted an early June election rally of the pro-Kurdish party in majority Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in the southeast. In late July, the second assault struck a group of young, leftist political activists in the border town of Suruc, [3] across from the Syrian town of Kobani where Syrian Kurds and Islamic State waged a fierce, monthslong battle.

Ankara joined the U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State within days after the Suruc bombing.

Opposition politicians blame the government for fueling threats to Turkey with its foreign policies, which they say are dragging the country deeper into the Middle East's conflicts.

With Syria's war increasingly spilling into Turkey, Ankara has fast become a central player in the migrant crisis now roiling Europe. Some of the 2.2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey are taking deadly smuggling routes to seek asylum in the West.

Following meetings with Mr. Erdogan in Brussels last week, the EU offered to provide some (EUR)1 billion ($1.14 billion) to help Turkey better manage its borders, fight smuggling rings and improve services to Syrian refugees, including efforts to integrate them to Turkish society to stem the wave of migrants.

Since last week, Turkey has also been contending with Russian violations of its airspace as Moscow bolsters military operations in support of the Syrian regime. Turkey is among the staunchest foes of that regime.

Amid mounting international challenges, authorities in recent weeks also detained two suicide bombers preparing to strike in Istanbul and Ankara, Mr. Davutoglu said, adding they had come from northern Iraq, where the PKK's military headquarters are located. The premier didn't link the two arrests with Saturday's blasts, and the PKK isn't typically known for massive suicide attacks.

Hundreds of policemen, soldiers and civilians have been killed in civil strife since late July, with the government claiming to have killed some 2,000 PKK militants. More than 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK took up arms in 1984, and the recent surge in violence has all but killed a three-year push to strike lasting peace.

The Kurdish insurgents declared a cease-fire on Saturday to avoid hampering fair elections in November--on the condition that the state also halts operations against the PKK. They also condemned the attack on Ankara.

Turkey hasn't responded to the PKK decision to halt the escalating violence, as the militants killed one police officer with a roadside bomb on Saturday, sparking security operations. On Sunday, two soldiers were killed during raids against the PKK in the eastern Erzurum province

The military general staff in Ankara said Turkish jets struck PKK camps in northern Iraq on Sunday, and killed more than a dozen Kurdish militants.

As the violence in southeast Turkey continued unabated, politicians in Ankara sought common ground to address security threats. The main opposition Republican People's Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu met with Mr. Davutoglu to break a political gridlock, asking the prime minister to dismiss the interior and justice ministers for negligence.

"The society is living through a deep trauma," Mr. Kilicdaroglu said after a 1-1/2 hour meeting with the premier. "The political system is reaching a point whereby it cannot produce solutions--this perception is settling in society, which is very dangerous."

Write to Ayla Albayrak at and Emre Peker at