A blast killed at least 30 people Monday in a Turkish town near the country’s border with Syria, officials said, in what was widely suspected to be an attack by Islamic State militants.
The detonation targeted an event held at the Amara Cultural Center in the town of Suruc, located just six miles from the border near the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, site of long-running battles between Islamic State and Kurdish fighters.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
The Turkish Interior Ministry, in a statement released shortly after the blast, said that nearly 100 people were being treated for injuries at area hospitals, and warned that the death toll was “feared to rise.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the attack and its perpetrators.
“Terror should be cursed wherever it came from; it has no religion, race, nationality and land,” he said in a news conference held in northern Cyprus, according to Turkish state news broadcaster Anadolou News.
According to local media outlet Hurriyet Daily News, the cultural center was hosting about 300 members of the Federation of Socialist Youth Assns. as part of a summer program to help rebuild Kobani.
Pervin Buldan, a Turkish lawmaker taking part in the rally, said the young people were planning to cross into Kobani to build a library and a park, according to local outlet JINHA News.
Although of little strategic value, Kobani became the focal point of an Islamic State campaign in September to snatch the town from a Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units. As the militants overran nearby villages, Kurdish forces mounted a fierce defense of Kobani while warplanes from a U.S.-backed coalition opposed to Islamic State dropped thousands of pounds of ordnance.
In January, Kurdish forces drove off the militants after months of street fighting and intense aerial attacks that left the town devastated. Since then, Suruc has served as a staging ground for Kurdish and international reconstruction efforts for Kobani.
Video of the attack showed people taking part in a rally in the center’s garden. The camera focuses on a number of young people holding a banner as their chanting is interrupted by an explosion. The scene descends into pandemonium; shrieks and screams can be heard as the camera goes dark.
The attack was followed by a second blast in Kobani that left no casualties. Activists blamed the explosion on incorrect handling of undetonated mortar rounds.
Despite being pushed out of Kobani, Islamic State has kept the town in its sights. Last month, the group blew up three car bombs while militants disguised as Kurdish and Syrian opposition fighters infiltrated the town and killed scores of people.
Bulos is a special correspondent.