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Bombing At Turkish Wedding Raises Questions About Country's Stability


Turkey saw its deadliest terrorist attack over the weekend in a year that has already been very violent. The attack Saturday was on a wedding celebration in the city of Gaziantep. More than 50 people were killed, and more than 20 of them were children. Turkey's leaders initially pointed the finger at ISIS, but now say they're still investigating. Gaziantep is near the Syrian border. It's a place NPR's Deborah Amos knows well. And she's been following the situation and joins us now. Deb, you've been getting more information on the target of this attack. What have you found out?

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: First of all, the casualties of this one were really heart-wrenching. One mother lost four of her five children and her husband was gravely injured. This was a wedding. The groom is the nephew of a Kurdish member of parliament. So this was a big political affair in the city in one of its big wedding halls. The dancing spilled out onto the street.

And according to people I talked to in the city, this is where the bombers struck, which is why it could be that so many children died in the attack - they were outside. The bride and groom survived. The early reporting of this was that it was a child suicide bomber. And Turkish authorities said that earlier in the attack. And then they walked that back. They're now saying they're not sure who it was, how old that person is and who actually did it.

SIEGEL: Now, at first, the Turks said that ISIS was behind this. If that were the case, why would ISIS attack Kurds in Turkey now?

AMOS: There's no one in the city who doesn't think that it was ISIS in the calls I made today. And what they think is it is payback for the capture of Manbij. It's a city on the Syrian side of the border. It was controlled by ISIS. In fact, it was the capital of their smuggling operation. This is where they stored their big earthmovers to get at ancient artifacts, you know, for funding. And it was a Kurdish militia that played the central role in the recent capture of Manbij. They also had American airpower. They kicked ISIS out. And it was seen as a major defeat.

So it appears that ISIS decided to take the fight inside Turkey's southern border. There may be some complex messaging going on here because this was an attack on a Kurdish wedding. So it could be an attempt to drive Turks and Kurds further apart. There were protests in the city from Kurds saying the Turks didn't do enough to protect them at this wedding.

SIEGEL: You know the area. Is - Gaziantep is the city where this happened. Is it an especially volatile place?

AMOS: You know, Robert, I used to go before the Syrian uprising. And it was just the opposite. Before the war, this was a Turkish city where Kurds and Turks lived in relative harmony. The Syrians crossed the border to shop. Kurds make up about a third of the population. The economy was dynamic. Money makes harmony possible. It was a big city - 1.5 million thriving restaurants and businesses.

SIEGEL: Well, how does what's happening in Gaziantep and this explosion, how does it or might relate to the Syrian civil war next door?

AMOS: Well, almost everybody will tell you that Gaziantep has been hijacked by the Syrian conflict. It's about an hour's drive to the border. Refugees poured into this city. It's even hard to know how many there are. We could be talking about one-third of the city are Syrian refugees. That border is porous. It's been a transit city for the militants of ISIS. It's been a haven for displaced Turkish Kurds who've come from the east. You know, there is conflict on that side of Turkey. So it's a hub of all of these tensions. It makes it incredibly explosive. And that's what we saw on Saturday with the attack on this wedding.

SIEGEL: Now, we should note that there's another conflict, and that is between Turkey and at least some of its Kurdish citizens. There's an insurgency and a counterinsurgency that Turkey has been waging. Might this relate to that?

AMOS: Well, certainly it does with the people who were at the wedding. These are displaced Kurds. They came from the east. They are in neighborhoods in Gaziantep, say people who live there, that are very nationalistic. And so it's interesting that, if this is ISIS, they picked those particular people to attack because that does drive a wedge between Turks and Kurds. And there is a historic population of Kurds in Gaziantep that've been there for a long time. These are newcomers. And their politics are very, very strident on what they want for their people.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Deborah Amos following the news of the bombing in southern Turkey. Deb, thanks.

AMOS: Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.