Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Sunday’s bombing in central Istanbul a “treacherous attack” and said “those responsible will be punished”.
His comment follows the arrest of a woman suspected of deploying the bomb and 45 other people believed to have been involved. Six people were killed and more than 80 injured in the attack. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the device exploded in the popular pedestrian avenue of Istiklal as it was packed with shoppers and tourists.
Authorities said they identified the culprit as a Syrian woman who sat on a bench for 45 minutes before leaving a package that exploded minutes later. She was arrested during a nighttime police raid and reportedly admitted to being dragged off by Kurdish militants.
Mr Soylu said initial investigations revealed the attack was carried out by the separatist Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its ally the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the latter based in the northeast Syria. Both have denied any involvement.
“We assessed that the order for the attack came from Kobani,” Soylu said, adding that the bomber had “passed through Afrin in northern Syria” before entering Turkey.
Kobani is a Kurdish-majority Syrian town on the Turkish border where the YPG – with US air support – gained respect and fame in 2015 by defeating the Islamic State terror group. Subsequently, the United States relied on the YPG for ground forces in the campaign in Syria against the Islamic State, also known as Isis. Despite Turkish opposition, the United States continues to support and protect the YPG self-government in eastern Syria. Afrin was a Kurdish township in northwestern Syria that Turkey captured from the YPG in 2018, forcing thousands of Kurds to flee.
This spring, Erdogan declared his intention to invade Kobani and other Kurdish-held towns in a bid to eliminate the threat to Turkey posed by the YPG. This was to be a continuation of his campaign launched in 2019 to establish a 30 km wide safe zone along the Syrian side of the border. While Mr Erdogan has so far been deterred by strong US and Russian pressure, the Istanbul attack could provide him with justification to mount the threat of an offensive against the YPG.
Action against the Kurds would strengthen his standing with Turkish voters ahead of next year’s presidential polls. Mr. Erdogan’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, said: “The international community must be attentive. Terrorist attacks against our civilians are direct and indirect consequences of some countries’ support for terrorist groups. They must immediately cease their direct and indirect support if they want [Turkey’s] friendship.”
Istiklal Avenue was previously targeted in 2016 in a series of bombings in Istanbul, Ankara and other Turkish cities. These attacks, attributed to the PKK and the Islamic State, left nearly 500 dead and more than 2,000 injured.
The YPG’s parent movement, the PKK – designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union – has waged a four-decade-long secessionist struggle against Turkey in which 40,000 people have been killed. In 1983, Turkey began conducting cross-border ground and air operations against the PKK in Iraq.
The United States, France, Italy, Greece, Pakistan, Ukraine and other countries condemned the attack and expressed their solidarity with Turkey.