Istanbul bomb attack kills 4; Kurdish PKK rebels fingered

The Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which is engaged in an escalating conflict with the military that has killed at least 13 soldiers since Friday, is suspected of coordinating Tuesday's Istanbul bomb attack.

By , Correspondent

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    Forensic officers work at the scene of a bomb blast in Istanbul Tuesday. An explosion rocked a bus carrying military personnel in Turkey's largest city, killing four people a day after the Turkish military stepped up operations against Kurdish PKK rebels.
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Four people died in Istanbul Tuesday when a remote-controlled bomb exploded alongside a bus carrying military personnel.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but officials have already pointed the finger at the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), an outlawed group fighting for Kurdish autonomy in southeastern Turkey. The PKK has stepped up attacks recently, killing at least 13 Turkish soldiers since Friday and about 50 soldiers since March. Much of the fighting between the PKK and the government takes place in predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey.

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The roadside bomb hit a bus that had just left a military housing complex in the Halkali district, reports the Associated Press. Three of those killed were soldiers, while the fourth was the 17-year-old daughter of a military officer. The AP reports that 12 people were wounded in the blast.

Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News also reports that a second bomb exploded in the central district of Beyoglu, but no one was harmed.

The PKK, which the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist organization, has not claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing, but Bloomberg reports that Istanbul’s governor said it bore the hallmarks of a PKK attack. A PKK spokesman threatened on Saturday that the group would “take our operations to all Turkish cities” if the government did not stop attacks on the group.

The US's decision to label the PKK a terrorist group in 1997 – the same year it classified Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers a terrorist group – prevents American human rights groups and aid workers from assisting them. On Monday, the US Supreme Court upheld the government's authority to ban aid to designated terrorist groups such as the PKK, even when that support is intended to steer the groups toward peaceful and legal activities.

The bombs in Turkey’s largest city come after a violent weekend capping a month of increased attacks, leading Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to vow to 'annihilate' the Kurdish rebels.

Turkey’s military launched airstrikes against PKK bases in northern Iraq Saturday after the group attacked a military outpost, killing 11 soldiers. The AP reports that the Turkish military killed seven rebel fighters overnight in two separate clashes in north and southeastern Turkey, in which one soldier also died. The violence threatens to derail the government’s initiative to address the Kurdish issue by giving Kurds more political and cultural rights.

Kurdish rebels dramatically stepped up their attacks on June 1, accusing Turkey of not establishing dialogue with them or imprisoned Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan and refusing to declare an unconditional amnesty that would include top rebel leaders, or allow Kurdish language education in schools.

Hurriyet Daily News reports that Turkey will restructure its military and intelligence operations against the PKK in the wake of the stepped up attacks.

The threefold anti-terror strategy announced Monday will see Turkey review current operations, intensify cooperation with neighboring countries, and work to boost the nation’s morale while psychologically weakening terrorist groups.

The government’s announcement, however, was not met with full support from opposition parties, which called such “daily and temporary measures” insufficient to stop the bloodshed.

Turkey will consider sending experienced troops rather than fresh recruits to the areas of conflict, as well as review its intelligence-gathering operations. The move to improve cooperation with neighboring countries will likely mean reaching out to leaders of the Regional Kurdish Administration in northern Iraq, reports Hurriyet. The rebel group operates from bases in northern Iraq, and the Turkish military says as many as 4,000 fighters are based there, according to the AP.

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