The midday explosion happened at a cultural centre on Monday as a political group, the Federation of Socialist Youths, was ending a news conference on plans to rebuild the Syrian city of Kobani, a witness said.
“The way the incident took place is clearly an incident of terrorism and most likely a suicide bombing, savagely [committed] and that we curse,” said prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu. “We not only curse it. We are face-to-face with a terrorism incident. We have the willpower to find and certainly punish those responsible.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but one senior government official said Turkey suspected IS was behind the blast.
Suruc, in south-east Turkey, is just across the border from Kobani, the scene of fierce battles between Kurdish groups and IS fighters that began late last year and continued this year. The city, heavily populated by Syrian Kurds, was the site of IS’s biggest defeat since the militants established control over large swathes of Iraq and Syria. Its ruins have become a symbol of Kurdish resistance.
If it is confirmed that IS was behind the attack, it would represent a major expansion of the fundamentalist group’s campaign into Turkey at a time that the Turkish government appears to have stepped up its efforts against it. In January, a female suicide bomber with suspected IS ties blew herself up in a tourist district of Istanbul, killing one police officer and injuring another.
Eyewitness Fatma Edemen, 22, said that before Monday’s blast, the federation of about 200 youths had been pressing for more access to help reconstruction in Kobani.
“One of my friends protected me. First I thought ‘I am dying’ but I was OK. I started to run after I saw the bodies,” she said by phone as she headed to a hospital to be treated for minor injuries to her legs.
She said her group had believed Kobani was relatively safe and ready to rebuild.
“Our friends went there and it didn’t seem dangerous at that time. We couldn’t even think something like that would happen,” she said, adding that they had hoped to build a kindergarten for children in the devastated city.
“We wanted to do something, but they would not let us,” she said.
Kobani was also the scene of surprise IS attacks last month that killed more than 200 people.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Cyprus on an official visit, was briefed on the investigation, said the state-run Anadolu Agency.
“I personally and on behalf of my nation condemn and curse those who perpetrated this savagery,” Mr Erdogan said.