18/02/2016 by Alan Meyrick
On 17 February, at least 28 people were killed and a further 60 others injured when a car bomb detonated in the centre of Ankara, close to the main parliament building, government offices and the country’s military headquarters. Initial assessments suggest the bombing was either timed to target a passing military convoy or was a suicide attack. No group has claimed responsibility, but Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reports that a Syrian Kurd named Salih Necard carried out the attack, with nine other people arrested since the bombing. Davutoglu claims Necard is a member of the People's Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia currently fighting Islamic State (IS) inside Syria.
The Turkish government claims Necard was working in collaboration with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Kurdish insurgent group that has escalated its campaign against Turkish military personnel in towns and cities on the south-eastern fringes of Turkey, close to the Syrian border, in the last nine months. The government’s implication that the attack was linked to both the YPG and the PKK has significant strategic ramifications, not only for Turkey but for the ongoing regional conflicts over Syria and Iraq. The Turkish government has prioritised the PKK over opposing Islamic State (IS) since a two-year ceasefire with the Kurdish armed group collapsed in July. Turkish artillery also shelled YPG positions in Syria in early February after YPG fighters were accused of encroaching on the Turkish border. Turkey has responded less to the threat from IS than to the growing influence of the Kurdish enclave, which has been a key US ally in the military campaign against IS in Syria’s Raqqa province. Blaming the Ankara bombing on the YPG and PKK reinforces the Turkish government’s narrative that the Kurdish group poses the greater threat, with anti-PKK airstrikes carried out hours after the bombing.
Although the Turkish government has immediately blamed the Kurds, Salih Muslim, a leader of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is linked to the YPG, rejected Davutoglu’s claims, stating that IS sympathisers based in Turkey carried out the attack and condemning the Ankara bombing. The YPG denial of responsibility corresponds with the uptick in IS bombings over the last 18 months. IS bombed a Kurdish peace march in Ankara in October 2015, shortly before the general election, killing 103 people and injuring more than 400 others. Furthermore, IS was blamed for a suicide bomb attack in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul on 12 January 2016 that killed 11 German tourists and a Peruvian national. Previous IS attacks also went unclaimed.
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