ISTANBUL: Militant Kurdish group the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) yesterday claimed a car bombing in the centre of Istanbul that killed 11 people, warning foreign tourists that Turkey was no longer safe for them to visit.
The TAK-seen as a splinter group of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) said Tuesday’s attack was revenge for operations by the Turkish army in the Kurdish-dominated southeast. “The action was carried out to counter all the savage attacks of the Turkish republic in Nusaybin and Sirnak and other places,” it said, referring to the areas in the southeast where the army had been carrying out operations against Kurdish rebels.
The TAK has already claimed two attacks this year that killed dozens of people in the capital Ankara in February and March, heightening concerns over security in the country. It also claimed an unprecedented attack in April in Turkey’s former Ottoman capital of Bursa last week, where the female assailant had failed to reach her intended target and only killed herself. The group, which also previously claimed to have shelled Istanbul’s second international airport, reaffirmed a previous warning that foreign tourists should not visit Turkey.
“We again warn foreign tourists who are in Turkey and who want to come to Turkey: foreigners are not our target but Turkey is no longer a safe country for them,” it said. The group described the attack as a “sacrifice action”, implying it was a suicide bombing, but did not give any further details. It said the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), “which obstinately insists on a wild war against the Kurdish people, is responsible for the civilian deaths. The Turkish people, who keep quiet about this war, continue to be victims”.
‘Nothing to discuss’
TAK’s founders are believed to have broken away several years ago from the PKK, which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state stretching back more than three decades. Little is known about the TAK but analysts consider its aims and methods to be more radical than those of the PKK, which concentrates its attacks in the southeast conflict zone rather than cities like Istanbul or Ankara.
Turkey has been on edge after a string of bombings this year blamed not just on Kurdish militants but also Islamic State (IS) jihadists. The new Istanbul attack is set to be a further blow to the country’s key tourism industry, which has already seen visitor numbers slump almost 30 percent this year over security fears.
The bomb struck near Vezneciler metro station, within walking distance of tourist sites including the Grand Bazaar and Suleymaniye Mosque. The front of the upscale Celal Aga Konagi Hotel, a converted Ottoman mansion favored by foreign tourists, was wrecked by the bombing while the 16th-century Sehzade Mosque was also damaged.
Six police officers and five civilians were killed, according to a final toll. The attack was followed by a bombing in Midyat in the southeast of Turkey on Wednesday that killed six people, including a pregnant policewoman, and was claimed by the PKK. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has said the PKK had made a bid for dialogue after almost a year of renewed violence that ended a two-and-a-half year truce but vowed there would be no talks. “There’s nothing to discuss,” he said.
One of the PKK’s top leaders based in northern Iraq, Cemil Bayik, said in comments published yesterday that Erdogan was exposing Turkey to “great danger” with his policies in the southeast. “Today Tayyip Erdogan and his forces… are about to bring about the end of Turkey,” he said in comments to pro-PKK media. – AFP