Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) claim Istanbul suicide bombing

A radical Kurdish group has claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Istanbul at the weekend that wounded 32 people, in a statement posted on its website.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) said Sunday’s attack at a police patrol in downtown Istanbul was an act of revenge “against the police force of Turkish fascism” and was organised and carried out by a member of its command.

TAK is a shadowy group that upholds jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan as its “chairman” but says it is not linked to his Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has led a bloody 26-year campaign for self-rule in the Kurdish-majority southeast.

The PKK says TAK is a splinter group outside its control, but Ankara believes it is a front for PKK attacks in urban centres that result in civilian casualties.

The authorities have identified the suicide bomber as a PKK militant.

The PKK leadership however denied responsibility for the attack and extended a truce, first declared in August, until general elections next summer, saying it wanted to push for a peaceful end of the Kurdish conflict.

In its statement Thursday, TAK made it clear it disagreed with the truce and would not observe it.

“We have seen no development that would justify the silencing of TAK weapons and we maintain our position on that,” it said.

The suicide bomber blew himself up as he attempted to get on a police bus at Istanbul’s busiest spot, Taksim Square, wounding 15 officers and 17 civilians.

Most recently, TAK claimed responsibility for a roadside bomb that hit a bus carrying army personnel in Istanbul in June, killing five soldiers and a teenage girl.

Ankara has recently launched a cautious, low profile bid for a dialogue with the Kurds, seeking to cajole the rebels into permanently laying down arms.

Ocalan, who retains influence over his rebels despite being behind bars since 1999, appears engaged in the effort, with his lawyers acting as intermediaries and holding talks with him on the prison island of Imrali.

The PKK leadership, based in the mountains of neighbouring Iraq, prolonged the truce Monday, reportedly heeding a letter from Ocalan which was conveyed to them with the help of Turkish officials.

Prime Minister Recep Erdogan signalled Wednesday that military operations against the rebels would be scaled down.

He said however the army and the police would act if they obtained intelligence about PKK activities threatening public security.

Erdogan also confirmed that state officials had held direct meetings with Ocalan in his prison cell, but rejected “bargaining with terrorists.”

The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Turkey and much of the international community, took up arms in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 45,000 lives.

Ankara has been tight-lipped on details of its peace strategy. Bidding to resolve the conflict carries political risks ahead of next year’s elections, as many Turks remain hostile to reconciliation moves as concessions to violence.

Sibel Utku Bila (AFP)

November 4, 2010

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