Turkey was rocked by three deadly bombings against police and military forces as Kurdish guerrillas launched a new campaign of attacks targeting areas that are not predominantly Kurdish.
Two car bombings – less than 12 hours apart – killed at least six people in total and injured over 200, officials said today (18 August), blaming the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Another three soldiers and a guard were killed in a third attack that targeted a military convoy in the southeastern town of Bitlis on Thursday, said state-run Anadolu news agency, which also blamed the PKK.
The latest attack, which injured six other troops, was carried out using a handmade bomb that detonated as the armoured vehicle drove by, the agency said.
The rebels, who have been fighting a deadly insurgency against the Turkish state for three decades, appear to have intensified their attacks since the failed coup on 15 July against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The car bomb attack that hit the police headquarters in the city of Elazig early Thursday left three police officers dead and scores more wounded.
The blast left much of the four-story building in ruins, with television footage showing a large plume of black smoke billowing into the sky while rescuers searched for survivors.
The city, a conservative nationalist bastion, had been spared much of the violence that has rocked the Kurdish-dominated southeast since a two-and-a-half year ceasefire collapsed in 2015.
Officials blamed the PKK, with one accusing the rebels of collaborating with supporters of US-based preacher Fethullah Gülen, accused by Ankara of orchestrating the coup bid.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an has denounced a senior US official’s visit to Kurdish-controlled northern Syria, underlining the “mistrust” the visit has created in Ankara over the nature of Turkey’s “partnership” with the U.S.
Turkey’s prime minister will tell world leaders next week that Ankara can play a key role in stopping a spread of terrorism, including Islamic State, but expected understanding for its own battle against Kurdish militants.
“We will thwart the PKK like we thwarted FETO (Fethullah Terrorist Organisation),” Defence Minister Fikri Isik told Anadolu, using the name Ankara gives to the movement led by Gülen.
CNN-Turk television reported that 146 people had been injured, quoting city governor Murat Zorluoglu.
‘Never before suffered an attack’
“Until now, we never suffered an attack on our city or received intelligence on a possible attack,” Omer Serdar, an MP for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), told CNN-Turk.
In another bombing on Wednesday night (17 August) in Van, a city in the east which has a mixed ethnic Kurdish and Turkish population, two more policemen and a civilian were killed.
A Turkish official said at least 53 civilians and 20 police officers were also wounded in the attack in the city, which lies near the border with Iran.
Former prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu suggested on Twitter that Gülen’s movement was working with the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the United States and the European Union.
“Once again, the attacks in Van and Elazig show how PKK and FETO work together,” he wrote.
The latest string of attacks came after five policemen and three civilians were killed in a car bombing near the main southeastern city of Diyarbakir on Monday (15 August), the day seen as the 32nd anniversary of the launch of the armed rebellion.
‘Exploiting the crisis’
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source close to the Turkish government told AFP that the PKK was taking “advantage of the current atmosphere in Turkey”.
“Any terrorist organisation likes to exploit crises,” the source said, referring to the aftermath of the failed putsch which has seen a massive purge of the army, including the dismissal of almost half Turkey’s generals and admirals.
More than 600 members of the Turkish security forces have been killed in PKK attacks since the ceasefire collapsed, according to a toll given by Anadolu on 31 July.
The government has hit back with intense military operations against the group, killing more than 7,000 militants in Turkey and northern Iraq, the agency said.
The toll cannot be independently verified.
Over 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK first took up arms in 1984 in a separatist rebellion led by now jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan.
Police have detained four suspects over an Istanbul car bombing that targeted a police bus yesterday (7 June), killing 11 people in the third deadly attack to strike Turkey’s biggest city this year.