Kurdish rebels deny Istanbul suicide attack as speculation mounts
Kurdish rebels also announced the extension of a cease-fire, but Turkey's array of militant groups present a formidable list of possible culprits.
Kurdish rebels have denied any role in Sunday's suicide blast in the heart of Istanbul, as speculation mounts about who was behind the attack that targeted police and left 32 wounded.Skip to next paragraph
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Despite the denial, Turkish media suggested that the attack was engineered by the PKK – which has fought for greater Kurdish rights since 1984, often with great violence, and is considered a terrorist group by Ankara, Washington, and the European Union – or a more radical Kurdish faction.
“It is not possible for us to organize such an action at a time when we are preparing to take historic steps toward peace and a democratic solution,” the PKK statement read, according to a translation by the Associated Press. “It is not possible for us nor any units attached to us to carry out or plan such an action.”
Complicating the picture for Turkish security forces are divisions within the PKK; a track record of similar attacks against police by militant leftist groups; and Islamist cells linked to Al Qaeda that in 2003 staged large-scale bombings in Istanbul that left 62 dead.
Analysts say the PKK or an offshoot, or leftists, or even a combination thereof, are all possible culprits. Government efforts in recent years to improve the lives of ethnic Kurds in southeast Turkey have foundered, and some political efforts have backfired.
Kurds on trial
More than 150 Kurds – including 12 sitting mayors and other politicians – are currently on trial, accused of working with the PKK.
“The question really is whether this is going to be the beginning of a chain of attacks, [because] there is a lot of frustration in the PKK, and the sense of being cheated,” says Gareth Jenkins, a security specialist in Istanbul with the Silk Road Studies Program of Johns Hopkins University.
“The government has dangled various concessions in front of them, and now in the last few weeks they’ve said there is not going to be anything until after the next elections,” says Mr. Jenkins. “For the PKK…[any attack] is a form of blackmail, because when they stage an attack they are saying, ‘We can do another one’.…I describe it as a ‘war of psychological attrition,’ to use the violence to try to wear down the resistance to negotiations.”
Some sources suggest that the PKK was involved, though perhaps not the mainstream group based in northern Iraq, whose leadership in the days leading up to the Sunday attack stated that they would not target civilians. The actual blast targeted police at one of Istanbul’s busiest squares, though 17 of the 32 wounded were civilians.
“There isn’t one PKK, so it might be a dissident group within the PKK that very much wants to hit targets like this,” says Ihsan Bal, director of the USAK think tank’s Center for Security Studies in Ankara.