A car bombing blamed on Kurdish militants rocked the Turkish city of Izmir on Thursday, killing at least two people and triggering a deadly shootout as authorities chased the fugitive killer behind the New Year attack in Istanbul.
The new attack intensified alarm in Turkey after the shooting rampage at Istanbul’s Reina nightclub unleashed shortly after revellers rang in 2017, which killed 39 people and was claimed by the Islamic State group.
Just four days after the nightclub carnage, a car bomb exploded outside a courthouse in the Aegean city of Izmir, with authorities blaming the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
A policeman and a court worker, reportedly a bailiff, were killed, Deputy Prime Minister Veysel Kaynak told reporters.
Police battled “terrorists” in a clash which saw two militants killed. Another escaped, he added.
The state-run Anadolu news agency said two suspects had been detained but it was not clear if they included the pursued militant.
It added that security forces carried out a controlled explosion on a vehicle that the attackers may have been looking to use as a getaway car.
The usually peaceful port city, Turkey’s third largest metropolis, is the gateway to the plush beach resorts of the Aegean and rarely sees violence on this scale. It is well west of the PKK’s main theatre in southeastern Turkey.
Izmir governor Erol Ayyildiz said initial evidence suggested the PKK — which has fought a deadly insurgency for over three decades — was behind the attack.
He said the slain policeman tried to stop the car before it exploded and the “terrorists” then sought to escape as the charge was detonated, triggering the gunfight. Up to seven people were wounded, Ayyildiz added.
Officials praised policeman Fethi Sekin as a hero for preventing a far higher toll by stopping the car and then chasing down the attackers.
“Our brave martyred policeman prevented an even greater disaster from happening,” said Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
Reports said that two Kalashnikovs, seven rockets and eight grenades were seized, indicating the attackers may have planned a rampage inside the court complex.
In a statement, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that Turkey would not allow terror to “strike fear into the nation and polarise society”.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was saddened that Turkey “within just a few days has again become victim of an attack”.
– ‘Uighur origin’ –
Turkish authorities meanwhile were seeking to close in on the Istanbul club attacker, who slipped into the night after spraying 120 bullets at terrified partygoers celebrating New Year.
Of the 39 dead, 27 were foreigners including citizens from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq and Morocco.
Kaynak said the attacker was likely a Turkic Uighur and reports have indicated the authorities are looking into the possible existence of a cell, also including other jihadists from Central Asia.
Most Uighurs, an eastern Turkic group, live in the Xinjiang region of China, although there are also significant populations in ex-Soviet Central Asian states.
IS took responsibility for the massacre in a statement on Monday, the first time it has issued a clear and undisputed claim for a major attack inside Turkey.
Kaynak told A-Haber television that airports had taken measures to ensure the killer did not flee Turkey and Dogan news agency reported that authorities had tightened land borders.
“The security forces are aware of who the terrorist is. We are also aware of the probable place where he might be,” Kaynak added, without giving further details.
Kaynak described the massacre as “sophisticated and well planned”, suggesting the gunman is part of a “well formed cell”.
– Families detained in Izmir –
Special forces detained several people of Uighur origin suspected of links with the Istanbul attack on the outskirts of the city on Thursday, Anadolu said.
Excluding the latest arrests, at least 36 had been detained in the probe by Wednesday.
Authorities had on Tuesday detained 20 adults — along with 20 of their children — from three families in Izmir. There was no indication of any link to the bombing in the city.
Those held had moved to Izmir on December 10 from the central city of Konya, where they are suspected of having been in touch with the Istanbul killer during his stay there.
Police are investigating possible links to IS of the suspects, who include Uighurs, Kyrgyz citizens and suspects from the Russian Caucasus region of Dagestan.
The latest attacks come after Turkey suffered a bloody year in 2016 when multiple bombings blamed on Kurdish militants and IS jihadists killed hundreds of people.
SOURCE: AFP, Stuart Williams