A second terrorist manhunt is underway in Turkey following a deadly car bomb and gun attack on a courthouse in the western city of Izmir Thursday, Turkish officials said.
A police officer and a court official were killed, and a number of others injured in the attack, including three police officers, Izmir Governor Erol Ayyildiz said. He confirmed that the attackers detonated the car bomb and opened fire when police attempted to stop a suspicious vehicle at a checkpoint in front of the courthouse in the Aegean port city, Turkey’s third largest.
Two of the assailants were killed in the exchange, and a third remains at large. Ayyildiz said the attack – the second terrorist attack on Turkish soil in less than a week, after a deadly Islamic State group gun attack in an Istanbul nightclub attack early on New Year’s Day – was believed to be the work of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. This assessment was based on the type of attack and the identities of the dead assailants. No claim of responsibility has been made.
For the past 18 months, Turkey has weathered regular terror attacks as it faces twin campaigns from the PKK – a Kurdish separatist group designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S., and Europe – and Islamic State group.
The PKK first took up arms against Turkey in 1984, seeking an independent state for the Kurdish minority, which comprises about a fifth of the country’s population and is concentrated in the southeast. The Kurds, an ethnic group spread across Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, have never had an independent country of their own.
The PKK’s campaign flared up again when a peace process fell apart in 2015, with its attacks primarily targeting Turkish security forces.
At the same time, Turkey has faced a campaign of terror attacks by ISIS, such as the Istanbul nightclub attack which claimed 39 lives. The war between Turkey and ISIS began in earnest in mid-2015, after several years in which Turkey did little to stop the flow of jihadis and weapons across its porous southern border with Syria.
But in July 2015, shortly after deadly bombings on rallies in Diyarbakir and Suruc which IS was suspected to have orchestrated, Ankara shifted its position to take a more confrontational approach to the group. It allowed the U.S. – its NATO ally – to use air bases in the south of the country to launch raids on ISIS, and carried out strikes in Syria itself, before eventually joining the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.
Since then, Turkey has become a major target for the terror group, which has stepped up its campaign in the country, as well as its rhetoric against the Turkish government as an “apostate” ally of “crusaders.” Attacks claimed by or attributed to IS have typically struck soft civilian targets – an airport, a wedding party, a nightclub – as well as targeting minorities such as Kurds and Alevis in an attempt to fracture the country.
On Tuesday, Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Turkish security forces had prevented 339 terror attacks in 2016 – with 313 planned by PKK, 22 by ISIS, and four by “radical leftist groups,” the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
Following a failed coup in July, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched a major crackdown on ISIS, the PKK and the networks affiliated with exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he says was behind the coup attempt (Gulen denies any responsibility).
In August, Turkey began Operation Euphrates Shield, a cross-border military incursion in northern Syria to fight ISIS as well as the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces, which it views as indistinct from the PKK.