The Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) militant group on Thursday claimed responsibility for Sunday’s suicide bombing in the Turkish capital Ankara that killed 37 people, and vowed to continue its strikes against security forces.
Separately, Germany said it had closed its embassy in Ankara due to indications that an attack could be imminent. The consulate and German school in Istanbul were also closed, it said.
TAK had previously claimed responsibility for a car bombing in Ankara last month that killed 29 people. Ankara has now been hit by three bombings in a space of five months, ratcheting up security fears across the city and Turkey.
In a statement posted online, the group described the car bombing, which occurred on Sunday, as revenge for security operations in the mainly Kurdish southeast that have been under way since July, in which hundreds of civilians, security forces and militants have been killed.
"We claim the operation of March 13, 2016 at 6.45pm in the heart of the Republic of Turkey," TAK said in a statement posted on its website Thursday, adding that, “We have hundreds of members ready to conduct suicide attacks."
The group said the attack was led by Seher Cagla Demir, code name Doga Jiyan, described as the first female suicide bomber in its ranks.
The name in the claim of responsibility corresponds with the findings of Turkey's Interior Ministry, which on Tuesday identified the suicide car bomber as a 24-year-old woman who became a Kurdish rebel in 2013 and had trained in Syria.
Out of PKK's shadows
A shadowy new Kurdish group, TAK says it split from the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). According to Jasper Mortimer, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Turkey, “It’s affiliated to the PKK, but it enjoys a certain operational autonomy.”
Mortimer noted that most experts say the TAK is trained and financed by the PKK. “The PKK lays down the guidelines for the type of targets TAK can pursue. But TAK itself would choose the specific target,” said Mortimer.
Sunday’s bombing at a bus stop in Ankara’s Kizilay neighbourhood occurred around 10 to 20 metres away from a police post, Mortimer noted. “But morally that holds no water because there were scores of civilians at that bus terminus.”
A return to the dark days of the 1990s?
The Kizilay bombing was the latest in a series of attacks in Turkey over the past few months that have been blamed on either Kurdish rebels or the Islamic State (IS) group.
In addition to the IS group threat, Turkey is also confronting increased violence in the Kurdish-dominated southeastern part of the country following the collapse of the Kurdish peace process and Ankara’s insistence that Syrian Kurdish groups – who are leading the anti-IS fight – represent a threat to the Turkish state.
“Overall this is bad news for Turkey,” said Mortimer. “It will hurt the pro-Kurdish party in parliament, the HDP, five leading members of which, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is campaigning to have thrown out of parliament, accusing them of terrorist links.”
The HDP is the first pro-Kurdish political party to have secured more than the 10 percent of a general election vote required to make it into the country’s parliament.
Critics have accused Erdogan of abandoning the Kurdish peace process, which held for several years, in a bid to crush the leftist, pro-Kurdish opposition HDP party.
In the southeastern parts of the country, where Turkish security forces are clamping down on Kurdish groups, there are fears of a return to the brutal 1990s, when the PKK staged an armed insurgency against the Turkish state which in turn brutally crushed the Kurds.
Reporting from Ankara, FRANCE 24’s Mortimer said Sunday’s attack “recalls the dark days of the Kurdish insurgency in the 1990s, when the PKK was detonating bombs in public places. That gave birth to a secret organisation run by the Turkish army called JITEM, which went around detaining people from their houses in the middle of the night, killing them and then burying them secretly,” said Mortimer. “In other words, Kurdish terrorism provoked state terrorism and that magnified the number of innocent people that were being killed.”