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Terror strikes Turkey's largest city as PKK attack kills five

ISTANBUL – Daily News with wires | 6/22/2010 12:00:00 AM |

The stakes in Turkey’s war on terror dramatically escalated Tuesday when a bomb attack on a military bus in Istanbul killed four soldiers and one teenage civilian.

The stakes in Turkey’s war on terror dramatically escalated Tuesday when a bomb attack on a military bus in Istanbul killed four soldiers and one teenage civilian following warnings that cities would be targeted.

The shuttle bus was carrying gendarmerie personnel early in the morning in the Halkalı district when a reportedly remote-controlled fragmentation bomb exploded, killing five and injuring 11 onboard.

An illegal organization called the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, or TAK, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on its website, Agence France-Presse reported. Turkish authorities say the TAK is a front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has been ramping up its attacks in other parts of the country.

Istanbul Gov. Hüseyin Avni Mutlu said no one had been detained in connection to the deadly incident, but security forces were following it closely. The governor said the attack might be related to a June 8 assault on a police vehicle in the city’s Küçükçekmece district, which injured 15 officers and may have used a similar type of bomb. Istanbul Police Chief Hüseyin Çapkın confirmed that the two attacks might be connected.

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The TAK statement said the group bombed the military bus because Turkey is “planning a massacre of the Kurdish people” and has adopted “a concept of aggression” against convicted PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan.

The shuttle bus was the last in a three-vehicle convoy carrying military personnel who live in lodgings in Halkalı. The blast caused damage to the first two vehicles as well.

The driver of the attacked bus, Neşet Yeni, said he had been on the job for six months, working as a subcontractor for the Turuncu Turizm Company, which operates the buses. “There were 30 or 35 people on the bus. I brought out 10 injured people,” he said. “The commander of the vehicle opened fire a couple of times and called for help.”

Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ came to the scene of the attack after visiting the wounded soldiers in the hospital. The top general also met Gen. Hasan Iğsız, commander of the First Army, at the airport upon his arrival in Istanbul.

An eyewitness told broadcaster NTV that he heard a blast while he was in his house and rushed out to the street. “I saw a man running away after the blast. I also saw a man carrying a wounded girl and helped him,” the eyewitness said.

Buse Sarıyağ, 17, the youngest victim of Tuesday’s attack, is the daughter of soldier Ünal Sarıyağ, who was slightly injured. The teenager had been riding on the bus to attend the military’s private course for preparing high school students for the university entrance exam. Her younger sibling was on the bus as well.

Soldiers Bekir Çelik, Çağlar Bölük, Uğur Ekir and Duran Bayram also died in the bomb attack.

[HH] ‘Not a surprise that attacks are in cities’

The spread of violence to Turkey’s cities did not come as a surprise to some experts who said both PKK statements and intelligence information had indicated such acts were in the works.

“Of course, it is extremely upsetting that lives were lost. But considering these kinds of events will happen again in the near future, we should think about what to do,” Ercan Çitlioğlu, the head of Bahçeşehir University’s Strategic Research Center, told NTV, though he added that the PKK is not as strong as it was during the 1990s.

According to journalist Mehmet Faraç, who writes on PKK issues, the crucial issue is that the outlawed organization’s urban militia is becoming stronger and better equipped than its rural units. “The military uses civilian vehicles to protect them from being targeted,” he told CNNTürk, questioning how the PKK received intelligence about the bus.

CNNTürk also reported that a sound bomb had exploded in front of a supermarket in Istanbul’s central Beyoğlu district, though it caused little destruction.

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