The Turkish interior ministry on Wednesday fired Ankara’s top police chief and two other officials as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan admitted security shortcomings may have led to a double suicide bombing in the capital that killed 97 people.
There has been growing anger against Erdogan and the government for alleged security lapses over the worst attack in modern Turkey’s history in which two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowd of peace activists on Saturday.
Announcing the first dismissals in the wake of the disaster, the interior ministry said Ankara police chief Kadri Kartal as well the head of the city’s police intelligence and security departments had been sacked.
It said they had been removed on the suggestion of investigators “to allow for a healthy investigation” into the atrocity.
In his first public remarks over the bombings, Erdogan admitted there were security shortcomings but said their magnitude would be made clear only later.
“There must undoubtedly be a mistake, a shortcoming in some place. Of what dimension? This will emerge after examinations,” he told reporters late Tuesday.
He said he ordered the State Supervisory Council (DDK), an inspection body attached to the presidency, to undertake a special investigation “to handle (the attack) from a different perspective”.
Erdogan on Wednesday made his first visit to the site of the bombings outside Ankara’s main railway station, laying flowers for the victims alongside visiting Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.
– ‘Bombers identified’ –
The attack has raised political tensions to new highs as Turkey prepares for a snap election on November 1, with polarisation within the country now greater than ever.
The bombing targeted thousands of people gathering for a peace rally of union, leftist and Kurdish activists criticising the government’s current offensive against Kurdish militants.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which lost several members in the blasts, has accused the authorities of, at the very least, severe negligence over the bombings.
In protests after the blasts, demonstrators have held up banners such as “killer Erdogan” and “we know the killer!”. The authorities have angrily ridiculed claims of state complicity.
The government has said the Islamic State group is the prime suspect behind the bombings, which also injured more than 500 people.
Erdogan has said the attack had its roots in Syria, where IS militants have captured swathes of territory up to the Turkish border.
There have been growing indications that the authorities are focussing on possible parallels or even links to a July 20 suicide bombing at a peace rally in Suruc on the Syrian border that killed 34 people.
The government blamed the IS group for that attack, which also targeted a gathering of pro-Kurdish and leftist activists.
The Hurriyet daily reported that the authorities now believe one of the Ankara suicide bombers was Yunus Emre Alagoz, the brother of the Suruc bomber Abdurrahman Alagoz.
The other is believed to be Omer Deniz Dundar who had twice been to Syria from 2013, it said, adding that both had arrived in Ankara in two separate cars from the southeastern city of Gaziantep close to the Syrian border.
Over the weekend and on Monday, police arrested dozens of people with suspected links to the IS group in cities stretching from the Mediterranean resort of Antalya to the southern city of Adana.
Turkey’s NATO allies have long pointed the finger at Ankara for not taking a tougher line as IS militants seized swathes of northern Iraq and Syria.
But following months of Western pressure, Turkey is now a full member of the US-led coalition against IS and allowing American jets to use its Incirlik air base for raids, potentially making it a more likely target for IS attacks.
– Arrests over tweet –
But Turkish officials said two people with alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had been detained on suspicion of having prior knowledge of the attack and sharing the information nine hours beforehand on Twitter.
“This is an interesting turn of events,” an official told AFP. “We are questioning how they can have had advanced knowledge.”
Turkey has for almost three months waged an offensive against PKK militants who have responded with attacks of their own, killing over 140 members of the security forces.
The foreign ministry said Wednesday it had summoned the ambassadors of Russia and United States to warn against support of Kurdish armed groups in Syria, including the main Democratic Unity Party (PYD).