main suspect arrested by Turkish police

A young woman of Syrian nationality is accused of the attack which killed at least six people on Sunday in Istanbul, claiming, according to the Turkish police, to have acted “by order of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party” (PKK).

The latter, in armed struggle against Ankara for nearly forty years, denied.

“We have no connection with this event, we do not target civilians and reject operations that do so”affirmed the PKK, via the press agency Firat which is close to him.

“According to our conclusions, the terrorist organization PKK is responsible” of the attack said Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu early on Monday, announcing that “the person who planted the bomb has been arrested”.

Police footage shared by Turkish media showed a young woman in a purple sweatshirt being apprehended in an apartment in an Istanbul suburb.

The young woman, presented as Alham Albashir, of Syrian nationality, would have entered Turkey illegally via Afrine, in northeastern Syria, controlled by Turkish soldiers and their Syrian auxiliaries. Police say they took their orders from Kobani, also in northeast Syria and largely controlled by Kurdish movements allied with the PKK.

According to the minister, 46 suspects were arrested.

The explosive device consisted of “High Power TNT”according to the police who claim to have discovered in the apartment a large sum of euros, gold coins, as well as a pistol and cartridges.

The attack, committed on the shopping street of Istiklal, has not been claimed. It killed six people and injured 81, of whom 24 remained hospitalized on Monday, for six in intensive care.

Among the victims killed, all Turkish, are a 9-year-old girl killed with her father and a 15-year-old girl who died with her mother.

As of Sunday evening, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his vice-president Fuat Oktay had appointed “a woman” as the person responsible for the attack.

According to the Minister of Justice, Bekir Bozdag, a “woman sat on a bench for 40 to 45 minutes and after a minute or two there was an explosion”.

“Order from Kobane”

Turkish media shared an image taken from a surveillance camera on Istiklal Avenue, showing a young woman in fatigues, wearing a loose black scarf, who ran away into the crowd. She is designated as the bomber.

The interior minister accused the Kurdish forces of the YPG, the People’s Defense Units, which control most of northeastern Syria, of being responsible for the attack. “We believe that the order for the attack was given from Kobané”he added.

For Ankara, the YPG and the PKK are movements “terrorists”.

Mr. Soylu gave a diplomatic twist to the crisis on Monday by saying that Turkey “rejects” the condolences of the United States which “support terrorists” from Kobane.

The city of Kobani has remained famous for the battle which, in 2015, allowed Kurdish forces to repel the Islamic State group with American support. It remains controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) of which the YPG, allied to the PKK, is a major component.

The avenue, partly closed on Sunday after the explosion, was completely reopened on Monday and entirely adorned with the red flag of Turkey, but all the benches have been removed, AFP noted.

PKK and NATO

The PKK, considered a terrorist organization by Ankara and its Western allies, including the United States and the European Union, has clashed with the Turkish government since the mid-1980s. It has often been blamed in the past for bloody attacks on Turkish soil.

In December 2016, a double attack near the Besiktas football stadium in Istanbul (47 dead including 39 police officers and 160 injured) was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a radical Kurdish group close to the PKK.

The PKK is also at the heart of a standoff between Sweden and Turkey which has been blocking the entry of Stockholm, accused of leniency towards the PKK, into NATO since May.

Ankara is calling for the extradition of several of its members.

After Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s visit to Turkey last week, the Swedish parliament is preparing to toughen up its anti-terrorist legislation.

The Turkish army regularly conducts cross-border operations in Iraq and Syria to pursue Kurdish fighters.

Last month, many accusations relayed by the opposition and Turkish observers, denied by the authorities, referred to the use of chemical weapons against PKK fighters. They published a list of 17 names, accompanied by photos of people presented as “martyrs” killed by poison gas.

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