Turkey on Wednesday launched fresh strikes against Kurdish targets in Iraq and warned of more intense cross-border air raids after concluding that militants who staged a weekend attack in Ankara came from Syria.
Turkey convened a national security meeting involving top defense and intelligence chiefs to prepare its response to Sunday’s attack on the capital’s government district.
Police shot dead one of the assailants while the other died in an apparent suicide blast outside Turkey’s interior ministry that injured two security officers.
A branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — listed as a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies — claimed responsibility for the first bombing to hit Ankara since 2016.
“It has become clear that the two terrorists came from Syria and were trained there,” Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said in televised comments.
“From now on, all infrastructure, large facilities and energy facilities belonging to (armed Kurdish groups) in Iraq and Syria are legitimate targets for our security forces,” Fidan added.
“I recommend that third parties stay away from these facilities.”
Turkey conducted air raids against PKK rear bases in the northern mountains of Iraq hours after Sunday’s attack.
The defense ministry said it had staged fresh raid on Wednesday that “neutralized a large number of terrorists” in five districts of Iraq.
Iraqi Defense Minister Thabet al-Abbasi was expected in Ankara on Thursday for talks with counterpart Yasar Guler as tensions soared.
- ‘War crime’ –
Fidan’s comments suggest that Turkey could intensify drone and artillery strikes beyond those it has been routinely staging in both Syria and Iraq in the past decade.
Turkish media reported Wednesday that the MIT intelligence agency had conducted an operation in Syria killing one of the suspected masterminds of an Istanbul bombing that claimed six lives in November of last year.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that an “intelligence official” in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northeastern Syria was killed on Tuesday.
Ankara has military bases and supports groups fighting both regime forces and the Kurds in Syria.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — the Kurds’ de facto army in the area — led the battle that dislodged Islamic State group fighters from their last scraps of Syrian territory in 2019.
But Turkey views the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that dominate the SDF as an offshoot of the PKK.
SDF commander Mazloum Abdi denied Wednesday that the two Ankara assailants had “passed through our region”.
“Turkey is looking for pretexts to legitimize its ongoing attacks on our region and to launch a new military aggression,” he said on social media.
“The threat to target the region’s infrastructure, economic resources, and populated cities is a war crime, the thing we have witnessed before.”
- Swedish debate –
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched a series of armed incursion into Syria and frequently threatened to expand attacks against the YPG.
Ankara on Tuesday also announced the detention of 67 suspected PKK members in raids across Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast.
Sunday’s attack coincided with the opening of a Turkish session of parliament during which lawmakers will be asked to ratify Sweden’s membership of the NATO defense alliance.
Turkey’s ratification has been held up by anger over the refusal by the Swedish police to ban marches by the PKK and their supporters in Stockholm.
Some analysts believe the PKK may be trying to block Turkey’s ratification because it would herald an improvement in Ankara’s ties with Washington.
Turkey has been trying to get the United States to break off its ties with the SDF — a policy shift that analysts think Ankara hopes to secure in return for its backing of Sweden’s membership.
by Dmitry ZAKS
©️ Agence France-Presse