UPDATE: Kurdish militant group TAK claims responsibility for Ankara attack

Thu 17 Mar 2016

UPDATE: Kurdish militant group TAK claims responsibility for Ankara attack

On 17 March, the Kurdish militant group Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) reportedly claimed responsibility for the car bomb attack in Ankara on Sunday saying it would attack security forces again. “On the evening of March 13, a suicide attack was carried out … in the streets of the capital of the fascist Turkish republic. We claim this attack,” the group said. In an online statement, the group said the attack was a revenge for security operations which killed hundreds of civilians, security forces and militants in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey. TAK said it targeted security forces and had not intended to kill civilians. The statement said a large number of civilians was killed after the police intervened and it warned that further civilians losses in its attacks were inevitable.

Turkish airstrikes in Syria
On 13 March Turkey's air force hit Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq in retaliation for a car bomb attack in Ankara. According to security officials one of the two suspects of the attack was a female member of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The attack killed 37 people. According  to Turkish military planes raided 18 positions of the (PKK) in northern Iraq killing 45 Kurdish rebels Meanwhile in Turkey, the police raided the southern city of Adana where suspected PKK rebels were detained.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, yet Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said investigators were following up on solid leads.: “We have concrete information on the terrorist group behind the attack. We will soon have results from the inquiry, and will make them public,” he said in a written statement. According to different sources, different numbers of suspects are detained. Reuters reported that the police detained four people in southeast Turkey in connection with the vehicle used in the car bomb attack. It cited security sources as saying the four were detained in the city of Sanliurfa, situated north of the Syrian border, after they established that the vehicle was bought from a car showroom there. It added the four suspects were to be taken to Ankara.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement that the terror groups were now targeting civilians because they were losing the battle against Turkish security forces. He called for national unity and said Turkey would use its right to self-defence to prevent future attacks. "Our people should not worry, the struggle against terrorism will for certain end in success and terrorism will be brought to its knees," Erdogan said.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) released a written statement strongly condemning the attack. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said: “The bomb attack against our civilians in the capital city of Turkey is a terror act which should be cursed with no ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. However, I have full conviction that our nation, who has feelings of solidarity, unity and togetherness, will stand with resolve in front of the goal that is desired to be achieved [by terrorists].” On 14 March Kılıçdaroğlu called on the parliament speaker to launch an initiative with all four political parties in parliament to establish a “joint stance” against terrorism and explore ways to address the problem.

Turkey's pro-Kurdish political party, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) issued a statement condemning the attack. The HDP said it shares "the huge pain felt along with our citizens". Because they are a pro-Kurdish party,  the HDP is frequently accused of being the political wing of the PKK and not speaking out against PKK violence. However, the party itself strongly denies being the political wing of the PKK.

According to the PKK they historically struck directly at Turkish security forces and did not target innocent civilians in their armed campaign. If they claim responsibility for the attack, this indicates a major tactical shift in their strategy. TAK, who claimed responsibility for earlier attacks, originally said it has split from the PKK but experts say that the two organizations are still affiliated.

International response
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg condemned the attack and said there was "no justification for such heinous acts of violence".  US State Department spokesman John Kirby said: "We reaffirm our strong partnership with our NATO ally Turkey in combating the shared threat of terrorism." The U.S. Embassy issued a security warning about a potential attack to Turkish government buildings two days earlier and asked American citizens to avoid those areas. However, the car bomb went off in a different neighbourhood than the U.S. Embassy predicted.

Earlier attacks

This bombing was the third in Ankara in less than six months and came as Turkey is struggling with several issues, as renewed fighting with Kurdish separatists, threats from the Islamic State group (IS) and the Syrian refugee crisis. Last month a bomb attack was carried out on a military convoy and killed 28 people. This attack was claimed by a Kurdish militant group, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK). The group presents itself as an break-away faction of the PKK. On their website TAK said that the attack was vengeance for the policies of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, Turkey held a Syrian national and a member of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) responsible for the attack.

In October last year, more than 100 people were killed in a double-suicide bombing at a Kurdish peace rally outside Ankara’s main train station. This attack was blamed on IS after the government joined U.S.-led efforts to fight the extremist group in Syria.

Turkey is fighting Kurdish militants in its restive east and struggling to prevent violence spreading from across its border with Syria. Turkey fears a challenge from Syrian Kurds increasing their power along the border.
Turkey has become embroiled in a two-fronted conflict, inside Turkey and across the Syrian border. For decades the government has fought an internal war with the PKK until a ceasefire was signed in 2013. However, in July 2015 this ceasefire came to an end, after a bombing that killed 32 Kurdish activists in the south-eastern city of Suruc.

Sources: Reuters, BBC, Guardian

, Hurriyetdaily, 2, BBC, 2, 3, RFE/RL, FOX