- Air strikes destroy 20 militant targets in Iraq, Turkey says
- PKK group earlier claimed responsibility for Ankara attack
- It was the first such attack in Turkish capital in years
- Iraqi president says rejects Turkish air strikes in Iraq
ISTANBUL, Oct 2 (Reuters) – Turkey said it unleashed air strikes on militant targets in northern Iraq and detained suspects in Istanbul overnight, hours after Kurdish militants said they orchestrated the first bomb attack in the capital Ankara in years.
On Sunday morning, two attackers detonated a bomb near government buildings in Ankara, killing them both and wounding two police officers. The outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group claimed responsibility.
The defence ministry said many militants were “neutralised”, a term mostly used to mean killed, in air strikes that destroyed 20 targets – caves, shelters and depots used by the PKK in Iraq’s Metina, Hakurk, Qandil and Gara regions.
Turkey has stepped up military action against the PKK in northern Iraq over the last few years in operations it says are conducted under self-defence rights arising from Article 51 of the United Nations charter.
Iraqi President Abdul-Latif Rashid said in comments aired on Monday that Iraq rejected repeated Turkish air strikes or the presence of Turkish bases in its Kurdistan region and hoped to come to an agreement with Ankara to solve the problem.
The PKK is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and European Union. It launched an insurgency in southeast Turkey in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
On Sunday, CCTV footage seen by Reuters showed a vehicle pulling up outside the interior ministry’s main gate in Ankara and one of its occupants quickly walking toward the building before being engulfed in an explosion.
The bomb killed one attacker and security forces killed the other, the interior minister said. The blast rattled a district that is home to ministries and the parliament, in an attack coinciding with the reopening of the assembly.
One attacker was identified as a PKK member and work was continuing on identifying the other one, an interior ministry statement said, adding that explosives, grenades, a rocket launcher and various guns were seized at the scene.
It said the attackers had hijacked the vehicle and killed its driver in Kayseri, a city 260 km (161 miles) southeast of Ankara.
Counterterrorism police have since detained 20 people in raids targeting PKK-linked suspects in Istanbul and elsewhere, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said on Monday.
A provincial Kurdish spokesman and district heads of a large pro-Kurdish political party were among those detained, suspected of collecting aid and providing shelter for PKK members, Yerlikaya said on messaging platform X.
The ANF News website, which is close to the PKK, cited the militant group as saying in a statement on Sunday that a team from its Immortals Battalion unit had carried out the attack.
The bomb on Ataturk Boulevard was the first in Ankara since 2016, when there was a spate of attacks in Turkish cities claimed by Kurdish militants, Islamic State and other groups.
U.S. State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters that Washington strongly condemns Sunday’s attack and stands with NATO ally Turkey.
“We recognize the legitimate security threat the PKK poses to Turkey and we urge Turkey to pursue joint counterterrorism cooperation with Iraq in a way that supports and respects Iraqi sovereignty,” Miller added.
Turkey’s armed forces have in recent years conducted several large-scale military operations in northern Iraq and northern Syria against Kurdish militants.
President Tayyip Erdogan told parliament on Sunday that Turkey would maintain its strategy of a 30-km (19-mile) deep “security strip” beyond its southern borders with Syria and Iraq, and that “new steps” on this were a matter of time.
Asked whether Erdogan’s comments signalled plans for a new large scale cross-border operation into Syria, Defence Minister Yasar Guler told reporters at a reception in parliament that the president did not say “anything new”.
Additional reporting by Huseyin Hayatsever in Ankara; editing by Robert Birsel, Jonathan Spicer, Mark Heinrich and Alex Richardson
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