Representatives of a group close to the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, are denying that Kurdish militants were behind a recent suicide bombing in Turkey that left at least 32 injured.
The blast occurred October 31 at Istanbul’s central Taksim Square. The attacker, whom security officials described as a man with explosives strapped to his torso, tried to board a police bus at the northern end of the square – a transportation and commercial hub usually packed with tourists and shoppers – and blew himself up next to it when he failed to gain access. Fifteen of the wounded were police officers, two of whom were battling life-threatening injuries.
Additional explosives and a detonator were found by the attacker’s body, which was thrown to the ground near a statue of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the revered founder of modern Turkey.
Soon after the explosion, local media began pointing fingers at the PKK, in large part due to the timing of the incident: a month-long ceasefire by the PKK, which is outlawed as a terrorist organization in Turkey, was due to expire on October 31. A group representing the PKK, however, denied on November 1 the militant organization’s involvement, and announced an extension on the unilateral cease-fire until Turkey's general elections in 2011.
"On a day when our movement was preparing an historic step to extend our ceasefire decision for peace and a democratic solution, it is impossible for us to have conducted this kind of an action," said the e-mailed statement from the Union of Communities in Kurdistan, a group also founded by Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish leader most famous for founding the PKK.
"Neither we nor any organization linked to us have carried out or planned such an attack. ... We have no connection with the attack in any way,” the statement read.
Despite the PKK denial, officials in Turkey are convinced that the October 31 bombing was an act of terror. “This attack can only strengthen our unity and our commitment in the fight against terrorism,” the Turkish General Staff said in a statement issued November 1. Meanwhile, a report distributed by the official Anatolia News Agency noted that rogue PKK elements have carried out attacks in the past without the knowledge or approval of the organization’s high command. The report added that the suicide bomber used “a type of explosive that has been used before by the PKK and by far-left groups.”
Turkey has been engaged in an armed struggle with the PKK – an organization that has carried out suicide attacks in the past – since 1984, with an estimated 40,000 people dying as a result of the conflict. More recently, however, there have been reports that the government and people close to the militants have been struggling to negotiate a path to peace.
In the past, Istanbul has been the target of attacks by Kurdish separatists, al Qaeda and militants from the far-left. Just in late October, Turkey announced the detention of a dozen suspected al Qaeda members in Istanbul and the eastern city of Van.
"Such acts of terror do not serve efforts to resolve issues in a period in which democratic rights and freedoms are improving, everybody has mobilized to find solutions to problems and our people display their will to live in peace and tranquility,” said Turkish President Abdullah Gul in a television broadcast.
Nichole Sobecki is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul.