Kivanc Dundar in Istanbul -
A suicide attack has killed at least 30 people and injured nearly 100 others in the Turkish town of Suruc, near the border with Syria, in what officials say was the first such attack by Islamic State on Turkish soil.
The attack on July 20 may increase tension in Turkey’s Kurdish-populated provinces and reignite fighting between the outlawed PKK and security forces. Islamic State may also want to escalate its war against the Kurds by spreading it to Turkey.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Prime Minister Abdullah Davutoglu said that initial findings pointed to Islamic State. Turkey will increase security measures along the Syrian border, said the premier.
The attack was carried out by an 18-year-old female suicide bomber from Islamic State and targeted a cultural centre, Hurriyet Daily News reported, while senior Turkish officials told Reuters that the attack was retaliation for the Turkish government's efforts to fight terrorism.
It was the deadliest attack on Turkish soil since 2013 when twin bombs killed at least 50 people in another border town of Reyhanli.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the bomb attack in Suruc and described it as an act of terror, calling for international action to fight terrorism.
Turkey has beefed up its military presence along the Syrian border in recent weeks, and its security forces detained a number of people across the country on suspicion of belonging to Islamic State, and of aiding and recruiting militants for the radical group.
Less than 1,000 Turkish nationals have joined Islamic State, Reuters quoted Turkish foreign ministry officials as saying on July 14. But Western diplomats told the news agency say the figure could be 10 times that.
As part of efforts to fight the militant group, the government has banned 15,000 individuals from 98 countries from entering Turkey and deported some 1,500 people suspected of seeking to join the militants, Reuters also reported.
Syrian Kurdish forces have made significant military advances against Islamic State in other parts of northern Syria, prompting fears in Ankara that Syria’s Kurds will form their own state. President Erdogan said in June that Turkey would never allow the establishment of a state in Syria’s north.
In early July some Turkish newspapers speculated that the Turkish government was preparing for military action in Syria to create a security zone or buffer zone on the Syrian border.
Turkey only took precautions to protect its borders, though it will not hesitate to take military action in Syria if there is a direct threat to its national security, but no one should expect Turkey to enter Syria in the near term, said Davutoglu on July 2.
At the time of the explosion there were around 300 young people of the Socialist Youth Associations Federation at the cultural centre in Suruc who planned to travel to Kobane in an effort to rebuild Kobani, the Kurdish town across the border. Kobane has been a battlefield between Syrian Kurdish forces and the Islamic State.
A number of Kurds, and leftwing activists have gone to Kobani to help Syrian Kurdish groups defend the town against Islamist militants. Islamic State militants withdrew from Kobani in January but they recently renewed their attacks on the town. Air strikes, carried out by US-led coalition forces helped Syrian Kurds push Islamic State militants out of Kobane.
Kobane has been a symbol of resistance for Turkey’s Kurds. The town had been under siege for months and partially occupied by Islamic State militants. But at the end it was liberated. Turkey’s Kurds and other activists based in Suruc sent medical equipment, food and other supplies to Syrian Kurds fighting against Islamic State.
When the government in Ankara refused to help the Syrian Kurdish militia, thousands of Kurds took to the streets in Turkey’s Kurdish provinces for five days in October last year. Dozens of protesters were killed in clashes with the security forces. October’s violent clashes threatened the already fragile peace process with the PKK. At that time Kurds believed Ankara was indirectly supporting Islamic State militants to weaken and thus force the Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG, to join other Syrian opposition groups, which would end dreams of an autonomous homeland like the one their brethren enjoy in Northern Iraq. The PKK’s jailed leader Ocalan and senior PKK field commanders have warned that the fall of Kobani would mean the end of the peace process.
On July 20, following the attack in Suruc, the Kurdish party HDP’s co-chair Selahattin Demirtas called on his party’s provincial and district headquarters to take their own security measures, reported Hurriyet Daily News. In a written statement, the HDP said the attack aimed to break international solidarity for Kobane.
The PKK held the Turkish government responsible for the Suruc attack, accusing the government of cultivating and supporting Islamic State. The Turkish government uses Islamic State against the Kurds, said the PKK in a written statement. But, it did not openly threaten retaliation.
The peace talks between the government and the PKK have long stalled and the latest incident may raise the tension in Turkey’s Kurdish provinces and totally derail the peace talks if the PKK retaliates or Turkey witnesses fresh violent clashes on the streets. The explosion also may be a sign that the fight between Islamic State and Kurds in Syria could now spill over into Turkey.
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