Twin bomb blasts in the Turkish capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and injured 186 on Saturday were apparently the result of a suicide bombing, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.
An official, who declined to be identified, noted no vehicle was destroyed in the explosions. The official also said a ban had been imposed in Turkey on broadcasting images which directly showed the bomb blasts.
A government spokesperson said the blackout covered images showing the moment of the blast , gruesome or bloody images or “images that create a feeling of panic.” He warned media organisations they could face a “full blackout” if they did not comply.
PM Davutoglu declared a three-day official mourning for the 86 victims of the the deadliest attack of its kind on Turkish soil as well as for people killed in terror attacks since July.
The attacks hit a rally of pro-Kurdish and leftist activists outside Ankara’s main train station, weeks ahead of an election.
Bodies covered by flags and banners, including those of the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), lay scattered on the road among bloodstains and body parts.
Witnesses said the two explosions happened seconds apart shortly after 1000am as hundreds gathered for a planned march to protest over a conflict between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants in the southeast.
“I heard one big explosion first and tried to cover myself as the windows broke. Right away there was the second one,” said Serdar, 37, who was working at a newspaper stand in the train station.
“There was shouting and crying and I stayed under the newspapers for a while. I could smell burnt flesh.”
There were no claims of responsibility for the attack.
The attacks came at a tense time for Turkey, a Nato member that borders war-torn Syria, hosts more refugees than any other nation in the world and is holding a general election on November 1.
Authorities had been on alert after Turkey agreed to take a more active role in the US-led battle against the Islamic State group. Turkey opened up its bases to US aircraft to launch air raids on the extremist group in Syria and carried out a limited number of strikes on the group itself. Russia has also entered the fray on behalf of the Syrian government recently, bombing sites in Syria and reportedly violating Turkish airspace a few times in the past week.
Turkish jets have also carried out numerous deadly airstrikes on Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq. Some 150 police and soldiers and hundreds of rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, have been killed since July, when the conflict flared anew.
Busloads of activists had travelled to Ankara from other cities to attend Saturday’s peace rally. Health minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu said 62 of the bomb blast victims in Ankara died at the scene, while 24 others died after being taken to the hospital.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Saturday’s attacks, which he said targeted the country’s unity and peace, and called for solidarity.
“The greatest and most meaningful response to this attack is the solidarity and determination we will show against it,” Erdogan said.
The attacks, in the scale of casualties, exceeded events in 2003, when two synagogues, the Istanbul HSBC Bank headquarters and the British consulate were hit with a total loss of 62 lives. Authorities said those attacks bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda.
Violence between the state and the PKK has escalated in recent months, with Ankara launching air strikes on militant camps in response to what it said were rising attacks on the security forces in the predominantly Kurdish southeast. Hundreds have since died.
Turkey’s problems have been compounded over the last week by Russia’s launching of air strikes in neighbouring Syria that could further swell a refugee population of over two million on Turkish soil. Turkey has protested to Moscow over incursions into its air space by Russian warplanes.
Those involved in Saturday’s march tended the wounded lying on the ground, as hundreds of stunned people wandered around the streets. Some rushed to hospitals, where crowds gathered to donate blood. Bodies lay in two circles around 20 metres apart where the explosions appeared to have taken place.
“This brutal terrorist attack on peaceful demonstrators is also an assault on the democratic process in Turkey which I vehemently condemn,” German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
The attacks come three weeks ahead of an election at which the AKP is trying to claw back its majority, and at a time of multiple security threats, not only in the southeast but also from Islamic State militants in neighbouring Syria and home-grown leftist militants.
In June polls, the AKP lost the overall majority it had held since 2002, partly because of the electoral success of the HDP, which party founder Erdogan accuses of links to the PKK. The HDP denies the accusation.
Designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, the PKK launched a separatist insurgency in 1984 in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.
It has since reduced its demands to greater rights for the Kurdish minority; but Ankara fears a link-up between Kurdish militants in Turkey and Kurdish groups in Iraq and Syria that could lead to demands for a separate Kurdish state.
The state launched peace talks with the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan in 2012 and the latest in a series of ceasefires had been holding until the violence flared again in July.
Hours after the attack in Ankara, Kurdish rebels declared a temporary cease-fire ahead of Turkey’s November 1 election.
A Kurdish rebel statement said Saturday the group is halting hostilities to allow the election to proceed safely under “equal and fair” conditions. It said it would not launch attacks but would defend itself.
The government has previously dismissed any possible Kurdish cease-fire plans, saying the rebels must lay down their arms and leave the Turkish territory.