ISTANBUL/ DIYARBAKIR, Turkey: A convoy carrying Turkish troops in the mainly Kurdish southeast was hit by four remote-controlled explosive devices Wednesday, killing four soldiers and wounding two, security sources said.
Security sources said the convoy was traveling in the Semdinli region of Hakkari province, near the border with Iraq when it was hit. The army sent in troop reinforcements and helicopter gunships in response.
The attack follows a car bombing Monday that killed nine people and wounded more than 60 others in the southern town of Gaziantep.
The Turkish government blamed a Kurdish rebel group Wednesday for that attack, which occurred near the Syrian border, amid concerns by ruling party officials that the militants may be developing links with the regime in Syria, and that its civil war could have a destabilizing effect on Turkey.
The rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has denied involvement in the Gaziantep blast, which numbered several children among the dead, but Turkish officials, including President Abdullah Gul, cited the group’s hand in similar attacks as a sign that it was the likely perpetrator.
“The incident is totally the work of the PKK,” Gaziantep governor Erdal Ata said of Monday’s blast. “Certain information has been attained. It may not be right to share it now, but evidence is being assessed.”
Anadolu, Turkey’s state-run news agency, said that anti-terrorism police had detained four suspects in the neighboring province of Sanliurfa Tuesday. They were later taken to Gaziantep for questioning.
The explosions follow an escalation in fighting between Turkish forces and the PKK, which had close ties in the 1990s to then Syrian President Hafez Assad – father of the current leader Bashar Assad.
Turkey, which seeks the ouster of Assad, is sheltering nearly 70,000 Syrian refugees and has urged the U.N. to set up camps inside Syria for the displaced, a step that would require the intervention of a security force.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has accused Assad of backing the rebels and it now appears Syrian Kurds are taking advantage of the chaos to take steps toward autonomy. Turkey fears the PKK, made up of many Kurds of Syrian origin, is also moving into the power vacuum in Syria, possibly with the cooperation of a regime who want to blunt Turkish efforts to dislodge them.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said any alleged link between the PKK and the Syrian regime in the Gaziantep bombing would be investigated, while Huseyin Celik, deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling party, said there were connections between Kurdish rebels and Syrian intelligence.
“The PKK is an organization that is capable of carrying out such an attack on its own, but could it have had supporters in such an attack? It’s possible,” Celik said in an interview with Hurriyet newspaper published Tuesday.
“After all, Assad, acting on the premise that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ is in a tendency to regard Turkey’s enemy, the PKK, as its friend. We don’t have full information yet, but even if it is a guess, such a link is a probability.”
Turkey’s leaders, attending the funerals of those killed in Gaziantep, called for unity Wednesday.
“The best answer we as a nation can give is to form a [united] front and stand side by side, whatever our differences ... in the face of this act of terrorism,” Gul told reporters.