Ankara claims that the Syrian branch of the PKK was behind the bloody attack in Istanbul

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ANKARA: In an overnight raid, Istanbul police arrested a 23-year-old Syrian woman, Ahlam Al-Bashir, as the prime suspect for planting the bomb that killed six people and injured 81 people in the city on Sunday.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has announced that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and its Syrian branch, the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, were behind the explosion in Sunday on Istiklal Avenue, targeting civilians.

In a statement published by the Fırat news agency, the PKK denied any involvement in the attack, but Turkish intelligence sources insist on the high probability of the group’s role in it.

An undated handout photo released by Turkish police shows an unidentified blast suspect arrested in Istanbul, Turkey. (Reuters)

Al-Bashir confessed that she was trained by Kurdish militants in Syria and entered Turkey illegally through the Afrin region in northwestern Syria currently controlled by Turkish troops.

She was caught in the CCTV footage, wearing a hijab and camouflage, as she left the area with a bag loaded with remote control bombs.

Among the victims of the attack were a 3-year-old girl and her father, an employee of the Ministry of Family and Social Services branch in the southern province of Adana. They were on vacation in Istanbul.

The White House issued a press release in which it stated that the United States “strongly condemns the act of violence” and reaffirmed that it “(stands) with its NATO ally, Turkey, in the fight against terrorism”.

Soylu, however, openly criticized the United States for its support for Kurdish militants in Syria, saying that “the insincerity of our allies officially sending money is evident” and comparing condolences to the arrival of the murderer. at the crime scene.

Security analysts insist there was a link between the PKK and the attack, based on patterns seen in previous attacks.

“This time, the PKK seems to be targeting civilians in a crowded place in a metropolis to generate a wider impact on public opinion and attract more attention ahead of elections scheduled for next year,” he said. said Erol Bural, a retired colonel and head of the Ankara-based Counterterrorism and Radicalization Research Center, told Arab News.

“The ongoing anti-terrorist operations in Turkey have seriously weakened the military weight of the PKK in the country and its region, which has also undermined the group’s organizational capacities as well as its popular support. The only way to win it back was through terrorism, a bombing, to punish Turkey,” he said.

According to Bural, the PKK uses this pattern against civilians to instill fear and to remind that it still poses a threat and can repeat such acts.

Turkey considers the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, and the PYD to be linked to the PKK, an armed group listed as a terrorist organization by the US, EU and Turkey.

Turkiye has carried out three operations in northern Syria against the YPG, while another operation was expected this year but never carried out.

The PKK has waged a nearly four-decade-long armed insurgency against the Turkish state, claiming the lives of more than 40,000 people. The group has several exiled members in Sweden.

As part of the newly established consensus between Turkey and Sweden to give the green light to the Scandinavian country’s application for NATO membership, the Swedish foreign minister of the new government recently declared that Stockholm must “distance itself of the YPG and PYD, which control much of the north of the country. Syria.

“There is too close a link between these organizations and the PKK,” Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom recently told Sveriges Radio.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson recently visited Ankara to discuss the details of its entry into NATO.

Bural believes that the latest Istanbul attack may also convey a threatening message to European countries, implying that similar acts could also occur in their countries if they ever restrict the PKK’s presence and propaganda activities.

“Now the PKK can carry out its terrorist acts in major cities by using its networks and proxies inside Turkey or by deploying foreign fighters from abroad.

“In either case, Turkey needs to strengthen its border security and take extra precautions against potential cells inside the country.

“Every year, about 200 terrorist acts of various groups are prevented in Turkey, but one of them escapes the security radar and causes so many innocent victims,” ​​Bural said.

While the PKK is seen as one of the prime suspects in the explosion, experts are also pointing to the Iranian factor in such acts of terrorism in Turkey, given recent disagreements between the two countries.

On July 22, Kataib Seyid el-Suheda, an Iran-backed militia in Iraq, shared a photo of Taksim Square in Istanbul, with the slogan “Wherever we need to be, we will be there”.

The same account posted another video on July 24.

“Our eyes are on Istanbul. The followers of Abu Alaa El-Vali,” the message said, referring to the leader of the Iran-backed militia, “are at the heart of Turkey, just as they were yesterday.”

Just hours before the Istanbul attack, a controversial Iranian article also accused Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan of playing a role in the terror attack on a Shia religious shrine in the Iranian city of Shiraz on October 22, which killed 15 people, and for promoting Azerbaijani separatism.

Daesh claimed responsibility for this attack.

Pro-Iranian Shia militias have previously been accused of being behind rocket attacks on a Turkish base north of Mosul in Iraq following Turkish airstrikes that targeted the PKK there.

Turkey has launched several cross-border military operations in Syria and northern Iraq against PKK hideouts following an increase in bloody terrorist attacks between 2015 and 2017, which killed hundreds of civilians and military personnel. security.

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