At least 28 people have been killed and at least 60 injured in a rush-hour car bombing targeting military personnel in the heart of the Turkish capital. Mehmet Kiliçer, the Ankara governor, said the explosion was aimed at a convoy of military vehicles as it passed through the administrative centre of the Turkish state, close to parliament, government buildings and Turkey’s military headquarters.
The deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmus, confirmed that the attack was carried out with a car bomb, but added that the perpetrators had not yet been identified. “We do not yet know the perpetrators,” he told reporters. “This attack did not only target our military personnel in those shuttles. This attack openly targets our entire nation. We condemn those who carried it out, those who instrumentalised the perpetrators, and those who gave logistical, intelligence and even political support to such attacks.”
An official at the armed forces’ general staff confirmed military buses had been the target, hit by an explosive-laden car as they waited at traffic lights. The country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said that the attack would only strengthen Turkey’s resolve against insurgents.
Plumes of smoke were seen rising over the area and the powerful blast was heard all over the city, sending residents to their balconies in panic. Television footage showed an intense fire around a burned-out bus and emergency vehicles rushing to the scene. A spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), Ömer Çelik, said he strongly condemned the attack as a “heinous act of terrorism”.
The Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, cancelled a trip to Brussels to attend a security briefing. He said the authorities were looking into information they have received about the explosion on Wednesday night.
President Erdogan issued a statement saying: “We will continue our fight against the pawns that carry out such attacks, which know no moral or humanitarian bounds, and the forces behind them with more determination every day.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Security sources told Reuters that “initial signs [indicated] that militants from Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) were behind the Ankara bombing on Wednesday”. This has not been confirmed.
Turkey has suffered a string of bloody terrorist attacks on its soil in the past 18 months, most of which were blamed on Islamic State militants. Other security sources told the news agency that Isis was behind the attack on the military convoy in Ankara.
Turkish police cordoned off the area and Turkey’s broadcasting agency, RTÜK, issued a ban on showing footage or graphic images of the dead and injured.
The explosion occurred in central Ankara, in close proximity to the buildings of the prime ministry, the general chief of staff, the Turkish parliament and the defence ministry. According to the health ministry, 20 ambulances attended the scene.
Turkish media reported that a second “suspicious package” found in front of the interior ministry was destroyed. “I heard a huge explosion. There was smoke and a really strong smell even though we were blocks away,” one witness told Reuters. “We could immediately hear ambulance and police car sirens rushing to the scene.”
Forestry minister Veysel Eroğlu said on Turkish TV that there was speculation that the attack was carried out by “a terrorist organisation”, but he did not name any suspects.
Kurdish rebels, Isis and a leftist extremist group have carried out attacks in the country recently. Ankara was already on alert after 103 people were killed before the general election in October in a suicide attack on a pro-Kurdish rally, which the government blamed on Isis. A suicide bombing blamed on Isis killed 11 German tourists and one Peruvian in Istanbul in January.
The latest attack comes at a tense time when the Turkish government is facing an array of security challenges. It is waging an all-out assault on the PKK in the south-east and shelling Syrian Kurdish fighters, while also helping US-led efforts to combat Isis. Violence between the PKK and the Turkish government flared up after the breakdown of a mutual ceasefire between the two foes.
Hostilities resumed in July of last year after a suicide bomber killed 33 Kurdish and Turkish activists in Suruç, a small town on the Turkish-Syrian border. While the Turkish government blamed Isis for the attack, many Kurds in Turkey pointed angry fingers at the AK party, long perceived as actively supporting Isis against growing Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria.
Following the bombing in Suruç, Kurdish militants killed two policemen in retaliation. Turkish fighter jets were scrambled to attack Kurdish positions in northern Iraq, while the PKK stepped up attacks on military and police positions in Turkey.
Since last summer thousands of officers have been deployed in massive security operations against the PKK’s urban wing, and blanket curfews have been declaredin several predominantly Kurdish cities and towns in the south-east of the country.
Hundreds have died in the ensuing clashes, including over 400 civilians, and human rights organisations have strongly condemned the ongoing violence.