ANKARA (Reuters) - A suicide bomber who killed at least 32 people, mostly young students, in southeastern Turkey is thought to have traveled to Syria last year with the help of a group linked to Islamic State, a senior Turkish official said on Wednesday.
There was “strong evidence” to suggest the bombing in the border town of Suruc on Monday was carried out by a 20-year old man born in the southeastern province of Adiyaman and of Kurdish origin, the official told Reuters.
Turkey’s NATO allies have expressed concern about control of the border which in parts runs directly parallel with territories controlled by Islamic State. Some 1.8 million Syrian refugees live on the Turkish side and smuggling is rife.
“He was active in a Syria-linked group supporting the Islamic State. We know that he went to Syria illegally. It was not possible to track him during his time there,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
He had links with another alleged bomber who attacked a pro-Kurdish political rally in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir days ahead of a June 7 parliamentary election, killing four people and wounding at least 200, the official said.
The Radikal newspaper quoted what it said was the man’s mother saying he was a former student at Adiyaman university who had worked as a painter with his 25-year old brother before going abroad.
“I don’t know what they were doing abroad, they never said. They were just telling me they were fine,” Semure Alagoz told the newspaper. “I don’t know where he is now. I don’t know if they joined ISIL, if they went for jihad. They are both good kids, they wouldn’t harm anyone.”
Two lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) submitted separate parliamentary motions on Wednesday, naming a 20-year old woman as a suspect, and asking why police had released her from custody last month.
Many of Turkey’s Kurds and opposition supporters suspect President Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling AK Party of covertly backing Islamic State against Kurdish fighters in Syria, something the government has repeatedly denied.
Protests erupted in several Istanbul neighborhoods for a second night on Tuesday, as well as cities in the predominantly Kurdish southeast. At least 49 people were arrested in Istanbul alone, local media reports said.
The unrest comes at a difficult time for Turkey, with a caretaker government in charge while the AKP seeks a junior coalition partner after losing its majority in the June election for the first time in more than a decade.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu rejected accusations that Turkey had tacitly supported Islamic State and had unwittingly opened the door to the bombing; but he said initial evidence suggested the Islamist radical group was responsible.
“Murderer Islamic State, collaborator Erdogan and AKP” some of the Istanbul protesters chanted as they marched down a major shopping avenue in the Kadikoy neighborhood, before police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse them.
There were also protests overnight in the capital Ankara, where demonstrators carried pictures of those killed in the Suruc attack as well as banners of the youth federation of which many of the victims were members.
Anti-government groups have vowed further demonstrations and the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), whose base support is Kurdish, has called for supporters to converge in Istanbul for a mass rally this weekend.
The lira was the worst performer among major emerging market currencies on Wednesday, falling more than one percent against the dollar, while Turkish stocks also fell as investors worried about insecurity.
Access to Twitter was blocked after a court in Suruc ordered the removal of images of the blast and its aftermath. Facebook and YouTube avoided a ban after quickly complying with the court order, according to a statement from the Turkish union of internet access providers.
A senior official said Twitter had also subsequently complied and the ban was later lifted.
Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley, Can Sezer and Daren Butler in Istanbul; Ece Toksabay and Mert Ozkan in Ankara, Seyhmus Cakan in Diyarbakir; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Ralph Boulton