Kurdish militants claim Ankara bombing, warn foreign tourists

AFP-JIJI

A Kurdish militant group on Friday claimed the suicide car bomb attack on a military convoy in the Turkish capital of Ankara that killed 28 people, threatening new attacks targeting the crucial tourism sector.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), who have been linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), said the attack was revenge for operations by the Turkish military in the southeast and warned foreign tourists not to visit Turkey.

“On February 17 in the evening a suicide attack was carried out by a sacrifice warrior on a military convoy of the fascist Turkish Republic in Ankara. … The attack was realized by the Immortal Battalion of the TAK,” the TAK said in a statement on their website.

Wednesday’s attack struck at the heart of Ankara in an area where institutions including the army headquarters and parliament are concentrated. It was one of the deadliest attacks on the Turkish military in recent years.

Ankara has insisted that the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Democratic Union Party (PYD) were behind the attack, although its claims have met with skepticism from the United States, a NATO ally.

The YPG and PYD deny accusations from Ankara that they are branches of the PKK and have rejected having any involvement in the attack.

The TAK named the suicide bomber as Zinar Raperin, born in 1989 in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated eastern region of Van, who had been involved with the Kurdish “freedom struggle” and with the TAK since 2011.

The TAK’s claim of the bomber’s identity is in contradiction to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who said the bomber was a Syrian national YPG operative.

In an additional English-language statement, the TAK warned it aims to “destroy” tourism in Turkey. “We warn the foreign and native tourists not go to the touristic areas in Turkey. We are not responsible for who will die in the attacks targeting those areas,” it said.

The TAK is a little-known group that has nonetheless risen to prominence after it claimed to have fired mortar shells on Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport on Dec. 23. The firing left one airport cleaner dead and damaged several planes.

Turkish officials say the TAK is a front for PKK attacks on civilian targets, but the PKK claims TAK is a splinter group over which it has no control.

In an interview published by pro-PKK media on Wednesday, PKK commander Cemil Bayik said he did not know who carried out the Ankara attack but said it could have been “revenge for the massacres” in Kurdish areas.

Keeping up the insistence that the YPG was to blame, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday warned the United States against backing the YPG, saying there was “no doubt” they were behind the Ankara attack.

Erdogan said Turkey was “saddened” by the stubbornness of the West in not linking the YPG to the PKK which has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state and is recognized as a terrorist group by the United States and EU.

In a phone call later to U.S. President Barack Obama, Erdogan emphasized “the importance of solidarity between allies in the fight against terrorism,” the Turkish president said in a statement.

Obama called for “the immediate halt” in territorial gains by the YPG and the Syrian regime in northern Syria, which he said “cause tension” and “affect the fight” against the Islamic State (IS) jihadi group, the Turkish statement said.

The United States works with the YPG as the sole truly effective force on the ground in the fight against IS and has shown no sign of changing its stance on the group.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Thursday it was still an “open question” who had carried out the Ankara attack.

Ankara prosecutors said Friday that six more suspects had been detained in the investigation, bringing the total to 20.

In Ankara, eight of those killed in the attack were laid to rest following a funeral ceremony at the city’s vast Kocatepe Mosque. Six of those buried were civilian employees of the military, and two were soldiers. In all, 20 soldiers of varying ranks were killed in the attack, plus seven civilian employees and a young female journalist.