In Ankara Bombing, Suspicion to Fall on Kurdish Militants

3 MINS READMar 13, 2016 | 20:00 GMT
The wreckage of a bus following an explosion in Ankara's central Kizilay district, March 13.

A bombing March 13 in a central neighborhood of the Turkish capital killed at least 27 people, according to a statement from the Ankara governor's office. The attack bore similarities to another attack in Ankara in mid-February that left 28 dead.

In the latest attack, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated at 6:35 p.m. local time, according to private Turkish broadcaster NTV. The government imposed a blackout on all news coverage of the incident not long after. Though no official blame or claim of responsibility was immediately issued, suspicion is sure to fall on several Kurdish factions battling the Turkish state — both domestically and in neighboring Syria.

The government was quick to blame the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militia, the People's Protection Units (YPG), for the February attack on a military transport. The YPG is a Kurdish faction allied with the United States against the Islamic State in Syria, but Turkey views the group as an ally of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a domestic militant group seeking independence or autonomy in southeastern Turkey. Though the PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, the PYD is not. The differing official views are a source of growing tension between the United States and Turkey.

However, a PKK offshoot known as the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) subsequently claimed responsibility for the February assault. Stratfor gives credence to the claims. And the latest attack exhibited similar methods and tactics, as early reports suggest the target was again a military transport. 

There are other possible culprits. The Islamic State is believed to have been behind a suicide bombing in January that targeted a German tourist group in Istanbul and killed 10 people. Another group with a history of terrorist attacks in Turkey is the Marxist Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front. Yet neither of these organizations is capable of an assault of the scope and scale of the one in Ankara.

Given the military's offensives against the PKK in Turkey and northern Iraq and against the YPG in northern Syria, Kurdish militants have an incentive to stage such attacks. The March 13 attack suggests — but does not confirm — a Kurdish link, particularly as military convoys are popular targets of PKK militants in Turkey.

Violence has intensified since a cease-fire between the government and the PKK ended in July. Kurdish militants have been attacking Turkish security forces, while the Turkish army has been besieging Kurdish-dominated towns and shelling Kurdish militias in northern Syria.

On March 12, the Turkish government announced curfews in the Nusaybin district of Mardin and the Yuksekova district of Hakkari province as part of an offensive against the PKK. According to an official statement, the measures were imposed "due to escalating terror activity in the region" and to ensure the security of citizens. Also on March 12, the Turkish military announced that for the first time in nearly a month, the air force bombarded PKK targets in northern Iraq, killing 67 militants last week.

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