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Turkey Lays Blame For Bombings On ISIS, As Elections Approach


Turkey says it is close to identifying two suicide bombers responsible for an attack at a peace rally in Ankara on Saturday. That attack left at least 97 people dead and more than 200 wounded. Turkey's prime minister says the investigation is focusing on people with ties to the so-called Islamic State. But as NPR's Peter Kenyon reports, grieving family members are also holding the government responsible.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: As with small bomb attacks that hit pro-Kurdish events earlier this year, ISIS is the government's prime candidate for this bombing, the deadliest in modern Turkey's history. It's a theory that can't be ruled out. ISIS has declared both Turks and Kurds to be sworn enemies and has shown itself capable of spectacular attacks in the past.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).

KENYON: But at a funeral for some of the victims in Istanbul today, this crowd of stunned mourners wasn't ready to accept that theory.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).

KENYON: "Erdogan - thief, murderer," they cried, not the way Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is used to being addressed. A number of mourners, like 50-year-old Ali San, seemed convinced that if the government wasn't behind the attack on a rally calling for an end to fighting between the army and Kurdish militants, it at least turned a blind eye to the potential danger.

ALI SAN: (Through interpreter) No, no, whoever did it must be under government control. Even if it was ISIS, then the government must have let them do it, so there's some government responsibility here, I think.

KENYON: The government has also suggested that the Kurdish militants themselves from the PKK or Kurdistan Workers Party could have been behind the coordinated double bombing. But many Turks dismissed that out of hand. Why, they argue, would the PKK launch such a devastating attack on civilians, many of them Kurds, just after calling for a ceasefire in the fighting between now and snap elections called for November 1?

While still in shock over the scope of the carnage, Turks are beginning to wonder what effect the bombing will have on those elections, in which Erdogan hopes the party he cofounded will regain the ruling majority it lost in June. In that race, marked by similar but smaller attacks, voters rewarded a pro-Kurdish party, the HDP, with enough votes to send a block of members to parliament for the first time. At the funeral today, 42-year-old Nedret Tumerdum says at this point, she's not even sure there will be elections, let alone fair ones.

NEDRET TUMERDUM: (Through interpreter) There could be more terror. They might even cancel the elections or make it hard, if not impossible, for people to vote in the Southeast where the Kurds are strongest.

KENYON: The prime minister insists there were no flaws or holes in the security arrangements for the peace rally, and the interior minister has said he sees no reason to step down. As the funerals continue across Turkey, many are looking ahead to the election with a sense of dread, wondering if more violence is on the way. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.