28 killed in Ankara bomb attack on Turkish military

Fulya Ozerkan with Stuart Williams in Istanbul
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Bomb blast in Turkey's capital

Map of Ankara locating Wednesday's bomb blast. (AFP Photo/Kun TIAN, Jonathan JACOBSEN)

Ankara (AFP) - At least 28 people were killed and 61 wounded by a car bomb targeting the Turkish military in the heart of the capital Ankara, the latest in a string of attacks to shake the country.

The blast struck a convoy of military vehicles, said Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus, confirming the latest toll. It was unclear who had carried out the bombing.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed retaliation against the perpetrators of the attack, which came on the heels of a spate of deadly strikes in Turkey blamed on jihadists and also Kurdish rebels.

The military said the air force had launched new strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq hours after the bombing.

The air strikes late Wednesday on the Haftanin area of northern Iraq close to the Turkish border, a known PKK stronghold, targeted a group of 60-70 fighters including top leaders of the outlawed group, it added.

Reports Thursday said Turkish authorities suspect the deadly car bombing was carried out by a Syrian national who entered Turkey with refugees and had links to Kurdish fighters.

Police have identified the bomber as a Syrian named Salih Necar from fingerprints taken from refugees who crossed the border to escape the five-year war in Syria, the strongly pro-government Yeni Safak and anti-government Sozcu daily said.

The reports said he was killed in the explosion, without specifying if he had acted as a suicide bomber.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said Wednesday it was not clear who had carried out the attack but promised the culprits would be found quickly.

The car bomb detonated when a convoy of military buses carrying dozens of soldiers stopped at traffic lights in central Ankara, sparking panic and chaos.

"This attack has very clearly targeted our esteemed nation as a whole and was carried out in a vile, dishonourable, treacherous and insidious way," said Kurtulmus.

Plumes of smoke could be seen from all over the city rising from the scene, close to the headquarters of the Turkish military and the parliament.

The powerful blast was heard throughout Ankara, sending alarmed residents rushing to their balconies.

"I saw a huge fireball growing," 25-year-old witness Gurkan, who said he was standing 500 metres (yards) from the scene, told AFP.

"People started to run in all directions in panic as soon as we heard a strong explosion."

The army said the attack took place at 1631 GMT and had targeted "service vehicles carrying army personnel".

- 'Rightful struggle against terrorists' -

Without specifying what the retaliation could entail, Erdogan warned that "Turkey will not shy away from using its right to self-defence at any time, any place or any occasion".

"We will never take a step back in our rightful struggle against all terrorist organisations," said a statement from his office.

The bombing prompted Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to scrap a planned trip to Brussels on Thursday to discuss Europe's migrant crisis. Erdogan also shelved a trip to Azerbaijan.

In Ankara, ambulances and fire engines were sent to the scene and wounded victims were seen being taken away on stretchers.

Images showed firefighters trying to overcome a fierce blaze engulfing the gutted service buses.

Turkish police threw a security cordon around the area. A second blast later rocked the area, an AFP correspondent said, but officials said this was police detonating a suspicious package.

Washington in a statement strongly condemned "the terrorist attack on Turkish military personnel and civilians" and reaffirmed US solidarity with the key NATO partner.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance strongly condemned the bombing. "NATO Allies stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight against terrorism," he said.

The EU pledged to stand "with Turkey and its people in these difficult times".

- IS, Kurdish threats -

Also on Wednesday an explosion damaged a Turkish cultural centre in a Stockholm suburb, police there said, highlighting growing tensions with the local Kurdish community.

Police said no one had been injured in the blast, which took place around 09:30 pm (2030 GMT) in the southwestern Fittja neighbourhood, where a man was shot four days ago at a pro-Kurdish rally.

Ankara was already on alert after 103 people were killed on October 10 when two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowd of peace activists, the bloodiest attack in the country's modern history.

Eleven people, all German tourists, were also killed on January 16 when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the tourist heart of Turkey's biggest city, Istanbul.

Those attacks were blamed on Islamic State jihadists, as were two other deadly bombings in the country's Kurdish-dominated southeast earlier in the year.

Some 500 rebels crossed the Turkish border into Syria on Wednesday under the supervision of Turkish authorities to help insurgent groups battling Kurdish forces around the town of Azaz, monitoring group the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said.

The PKK launched an insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984, initially fighting for Kurdish independence although now more for greater autonomy and rights for the country's largest ethnic minority.

Turkish artillery shelled positions of Kurdish fighters in Syria for the fifth day in a row on Wednesday in an escalating standoff, reports said.

Turkey says the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People's Protection Units (YPG) are merely the Syrian branch of the PKK and themselves terror groups.

The banned ultra-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party–Front (DHKP-C) has also staged a string of usually small-scale attacks in Istanbul over the last few months.