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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Death toll hits 54 in Turkish wedding bombing

By Shabtai Gold Tribune News Service

ISTANBUL – The death toll from the weekend suicide bombing at a Kurdish wedding in southern Turkey has risen to 54, CNN Turk reported Monday, with at least 29 of the dead listed as children.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pinned responsibility for the attack – in the city of Gaziantep, near the border with Syria – on the Islamic State insurgent group.

Of the dead, 22 were children under the age of 14 and seven more were minors under the age of 18, the Hurriyet newspaper reported. It also noted that several victims remained unidentified.

Erdogan previously said the suicide bomber was a child himself, aged between 12 and 14.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim cast doubt on that, telling the state-run news agency Anadolu as saying it is a “rumor” that the attack was carried out by a child.

The bomber has not yet been identified.

The Islamic State group has been blamed for a number of suicide attacks in Turkey, including blasts targeting Kurdish gatherings. One last year in Ankara killed 100 people. The extremist group often does not claim responsibility for blasts inside Turkey.

Hurriyet, relying on video footage, reported that two adults accompanied the child to the scene of the attack and fled just before the detonation. They remain at large.

An additional 66 people were injured in the Saturday night attack, including 14 who remain in critical condition. The bride and groom were injured, but not seriously.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said the wedding was for one of its members. The party was sharply critical of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) following the attack.

“The ruling party’s hate speech, discriminating and dividing attitude in democratic political arenas furnishes the conditions for such attacks,” HDP said in a statement.

Islamic State in Syria has been rapidly losing ground to Kurdish militants from the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is backed by the United States in its war against the extremist group.

Most recently, the Kurds, along with Arab allies, ousted Islamic State from Minbij, a key city near the border with Turkey, helping to cut off the flow of foreign fighters joining the extremists.

Turkey has been wary of the YPG gains, citing links to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The HDP has been urging Turkey to reopen abandoned peace talks with the PKK, but the government rejects this.

Erdogan also accused the HDP of links to the PKK, something the party staunchly denies. The HDP remains legal in Turkey.

Gaziantep, a city of 1.5 million people, is about 24 miles from the Syrian border. The city hosts many Syrian refugees who fled the war in their home country.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is due in Turkey on Wednesday, a visit that was scheduled before this weekend’s attack.

In addition to attacks on Kurds in Turkey and tourists in Istanbul, the Islamic State also was blamed for the June assault on the country’s main Ataturk international airport, killing more than 40 people.

Turkey continues to face conflict with the PKK, though this violence is mostly confined to the largely Kurdish southeast of the country. Recently the militants have launched a serious of car bombings targeting police forces.

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