A suicide car bomb ripped through a busy square in central Ankara Sunday, killing at least 27 people and wounding 75, officials said, the latest in a spate of deadly attacks to hit Turkey.
The blast in Kizilay square is the second major attack in the heart of the Turkish capital in less than a month, after a suicide car bombing on February 17 targeting the military that killed 29 people, claimed by a dissident faction of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers\’ Party (PKK).
The fact that militants were able to strike again so soon in an area close to the prime minister\’s office, parliament building and foreign embassies will raise fresh questions about Turkey\’s ability to manage the twin security threat posed by the Islamic State group (IS) and Kurdish rebels.
Ambulances ferried the wounded from the square, a bustling commercial area and local transport hub, to 10 different city hospitals.
The bomber struck at around 6:45 pm (1645 GMT) and the force of the explosion — which the CNN-Turk news channel said killed 23 people instantly — reduced several vehicles to charred husks and damaged nearby shops.
The provincial governor\’s office said the death toll stood at 27, with 75 wounded.
"The blast was caused by a vehicle packed with explosives close to Kizilay square," an official statement said.
A security official told AFP that initial findings showed the blast was a suicide attack.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu chaired an emergency meeting of security chiefs in the wake of the blast, Dogan news agency reported.
Turkey has been on high alert following a string of deadly attacks since the middle of last year, most of them blamed on the IS group, including a double suicide bombing in Ankara in October that left 103 people dead.
As recently as Friday, the US embassy issued a warning about a possible plot to attack part of central Ankara, advising American citizens they should avoid the area.
Sunday\’s blast comes at a delicate moment for Turkey, as it seeks to persuade the European Union to speed up its path to membership of the bloc in return for help with the migrant crisis.
The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), linked to the PKK, said it carried out the February bombing in Ankara as revenge for operations by the Turkish military in the southeast of the country and warned foreign tourists not to visit.
A two-year ceasefire between the government and Kurdish rebels collapsed in the middle of last year and since December security forces have been waging a major campaign against the PKK in the southeast of the country.
Strict 24-hour curfews were imposed in a number of Kurdish-dominated towns and cities to allow the military and police to pursue the battle against fighters who had dug trenches and put up barricades.
Sunday\’s attack came hours before curfews were due to take effect in two more towns in the southeast as a prelude to fresh military operations.
Authorities said restrictions would be slapped on Yuksekova, near the Iranian border, and Nusaybin, on the frontier with Syria, to "restore order and security" following an increase in "terrorist activity".
Ankara has vowed to wipe out the PKK, classed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and its Western allies, and has said "clean-up" operations in Yuksekova, Nusaybin and Sirnak, a third Kurdish city, are imminent.