Turkey arrests a Syrian woman and blames the PKK for the attack in Istanbul

Turkey arrests a Syrian woman and blames the PKK for the attack in Istanbul


Turkey on Monday accused a Syrian woman of planting a bomb that killed six people in Istanbul, blaming the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for the attack.

Two girls, aged nine and 15, were among the dead when the bomb exploded on Istiklal Avenue, home to chic boutiques and European consulates, just after 16:00 (1300 GMT) on Sunday. More than 80 other people were injured.

“The person who planted the bomb has been arrested,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said in a statement broadcast by the official Anadolu News Agency early Monday.

“According to our knowledge, the terrorist organization PKK is responsible,” said Soylu.

The PKK, blacklisted as a terrorist group by Ankara and its western allies, has waged a deadly pro-Kurdish self-government insurgency in southeastern Turkey since the 1980s.

Police, quoted by private television channel NTV, said the main suspect was a Syrian woman working for militant Kurds. A total of 46 people were arrested, the police said.

Police footage shared with Turkish media showed a young woman in a purple sweatshirt being arrested at an apartment in Istanbul.

Police, quoted by NTV, called her Alham Albashir and said she was arrested at 2:50 a.m. in a suburb of Istanbul. Local media said she was a trained PKK intelligence operative.

– ‘Order of Kobane’ –

No liability was asserted.

“We believe the order to attack came from Kobane,” Soylu said, referring to a town in Syria near the Turkish border.

Kurdish militants linked to the PKK control most of northeastern Syria, and in 2015 Kurdish fighters drove Islamic State jihadists out of the city.

Turkish broadcaster NTV also shared surveillance footage of a young woman in trousers and a loose black scarf walking into the crowd on Sunday afternoon.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told TV channel A Haber that a woman sat on a bench for more than 40 minutes “then she got up” and left a bag behind.

“A minute or two later, an explosion happened,” he said.

On Monday, all benches had been removed from Istiklal Avenue, where residents laid red carnations at the site of the blast, some wiping tears and others speaking of fear of more attacks ahead of next June’s elections.

“We need more security!” said Idris Cetinkaya, who works at a nearby hotel and came to pay his respects.

– ‘Living with Fear’ –

“The police were just searching my bag when I got here, but this is the first time in a year. Millions of people come here, anything can happen at any second!”

Istiklal Avenue had previously been targeted during a campaign of nationwide bombings in 2015-16 blamed mostly on the Islamic State group and outlaw Kurdish militants, killing nearly 500 and injuring more than 2,000.

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the “heinous attack” that smelled like “the smell of terror” just before the G20 summit on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali.

Kemal Ozturk, a shopkeeper, is among those who fear another explosion ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in seven months.

“It can happen during the elections. It can happen here or in any city,” the 42-year-old told AFP. “We live in fear”.

The PKK, which is regularly targeted by Turkish military operations, has also been at the center of a row between Sweden and Turkey, which since May have blocked Stockholm’s bid to join NATO and accused it of being lenient towards the group.

International condemnations poured in from around the world, including the United States, but on Monday Turkey said it declined US condolences for the attack.

– Reject US condolences –

Erdogan’s government has often accused Washington of supplying arms to Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, which Ankara describes as a PKK-affiliated terrorist group.

“We do not accept the message of condolences from the US Embassy. We reject them,” Soylu said.

“We stand side by side with our NATO ally Turkey in the fight against terrorism,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. The US embassy tweeted that it was “deeply saddened by the explosion.”

President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences in a message to Erdogan on Monday.

“We reaffirm our readiness for the closest cooperation with our Turkish partners in the fight against all forms and manifestations of terrorism,” he said in the telegram.

Istiklal Avenue reopened to pedestrian traffic on Monday.

“My son was there. He called me and said there was an explosion,” said Mecit Bal, who runs a small shop a few yards from the scene.

He won’t be going to work today. He is mentally ill,” he told the AFP news agency.

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