ISTANBUL, Turkey (AFP) — Thirteen Turkish soldiers were killed and dozens more wounded Saturday in a suicide car bombing targeting off-duty conscripts, the latest in a string of attacks to rock Turkey in recent months.
Forty-eight soldiers were wounded in the attack in the central city of Kayseri, where they were being taken by bus on a weekend shopping trip, the army said in a statement. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said a total of 55 people were wounded, six seriously.
Television pictures showed the bus reduced to a smoldering wreck by the impact of the blast, while wounded were taken to waiting ambulances.
The explosion comes a week after 44 people were killed on December 10 in a double bombing in Istanbul after a football match. The attack was claimed by Kurdish militants.
Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak said in televised comments that Kayseri attack was “unfortunately similar” to last weekend’s strikes in Istanbul.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that the attack was carried out by a “suicide bomber,” without giving further details.
The army said that the bus — carrying low-ranking privates and non-commissioned officers — was attacked after leaving the commando headquarters in the city.
The bus was owned by the municipal transport authorities in Kayseri but was transporting the soldiers who had taken permission to go to a local market for the day, the Dogan news agency said.
A top minister said all signs so far indicated that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was behind the bombing.
“All indications at present point to the PKK. We have to take into account all possibilities but the signs at present point to the PKK,” Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus told NTV television in an interview.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement that the “acts of terror” in Turkey were “aiming at all 79 million of our citizens together with our soldiers and police.”
Without referring specifically to the Kayseri attack, he said that Turkey was targeted by all terror groups but especially the PKK.
“We will fight decisively against these terror organizations in the spirit of a national mobilization,” he said.
Turkey has seen a spate of deadly bombings in a bloody 2016 blamed both on jihadists and Kurdish militants that have left dozens dead and put the country on daily alert.
In June, 47 people were killed in a triple suicide bombing and gun attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, with authorities blaming the Islamic State group.
Another 57 people including 34 children were killed in August in a suicide attack by an IS-linked bomber at a Kurdish wedding in the southeastern city of Gaziantep.
Kurdish militants have twice struck with bombings that killed dozens in Ankara in February and March.
The attacks have come with the civil war still raging in neighboring Syria, where Turkey is staging its own incursion to force jihadists and Kurdish militia from the border area.
Turkey is also still reeling from a failed July 15 coup blamed on the US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen that has been followed by a relentless purge of his alleged supporters from all state institutions.
One of the main cities of central Turkey, Kayseri is a key industrial hub with a population of over one million and usually seen as a peaceful area.
It is well west of the southeast of the country that has been hit by months of deadly fighting between the PKK and the security forces.
The city lies close to the famous landscapes of Cappadocia, a magnet for tourists around the world.
There was no immediate indication of who was behind the latest attack.
The government slapped a temporary broadcast ban on footage of the attack, as is becoming typical in the aftermath of major incidents in the country.
The Turkish military has stepped up operations against the PKK after a fragile ceasefire broke down in the summer of 2015. Since then, there has been a dramatic surge in violence that shows no sign of ending.
Last week’s double bombing in Istanbul, which targeted police after a match of the Besiktas football club, was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) seen as a radical offshoot of the PKK.
The attack in Istanbul prompted a sharp response from Erdogan, who vowed Ankara would “fight the scourge of terrorism right to the end.”