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Istanbul suicide attack highlights Turkey's struggle with militant groups

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Istanbul suicide attack in the heart of the city, which injured 17 civilians and 15 police, Sunday.

By Staff writer / October 31, 2010

Police forensic officers inspect the scene as firefighters and ambulances wait after an explosion close to Taksim Square where riot police were stationed in case of demonstrations in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday. The Istanbul suicide attack wounded 32 people.

Hurriyet/AP

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Istanbul, Turkey

A suicide bomber targeted Turkish police in the heart of Istanbul on Sunday, killing himself, injuring 32, and prompting police gunfire.

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Chaos erupted midmorning in Taksim Square, the popular shopping and pedestrian center of Turkey’s economic capital, when a male suicide bomber detonated plastic explosives while attempting to board a bus full of riot policemen, authorities here said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, though a unilateral cease-fire declared by Kurdish PKK rebels 2-½ months ago was set to expire on Sunday. Turkey is also home to an array of small non-Kurdish militant groups, from those on the far left to right-wing nationalists to Islamists.

Authorities suggested that they had clear suspicions about which group was responsible, and why, but would not be immediately drawn out on who was to blame.

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“Those who threaten Turkey’s peace, security, and development will not be tolerated,” said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, in a speech in Mardin, in the mostly Kurdish southeast. “These kinds of attacks will not stop Turkey reaching its goals of peace, brotherhood, and development. We are together; we are brothers.”

Which group carried out the attack?

Istanbul's Governor Avni Mutlu said a “terrorist organization” was behind the attack, but gave no further details about who was responsible.

Interior Minister Besir Atalay, on a trip to China, said the government had “certain suspicions, certain evidence” about who to blame, but at this point would go no further.

The bombing took place in Istanbul’s main square, a few strides from a monument dedicated to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded modern Turkey in 1923. The square was draped in Turkish flags to mark Republic Day, which was celebrated on Friday.

The PKK and the cease-fire

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – which fought the Turkish military viciously in the 1980s and 1990s for more Kurdish rights, and is often referred to by Turkish officials as “terrorists” – said it could not continue a cease-fire announced in mid-August.

The group has declared it would no longer target civilians, and last week a top commander based in northern Iraq said the PKK preferred to continue the cease-fire if the government would commit to dialogue.

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