The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a Marxist terrorist group affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has taken responsibility for a car bombing in Istanbul this week that killed 11 people. The group is warning tourists to stay away from Turkey or face death.
“We have just started the war,” the TAK group said in a statement acknowledging that they had planned and executed the bombing using a rental car to target a police bus transporting riot police officers on their way to a routine examination. Seven of those killed were police, and both police and civilians were among the 36 injured. The organization, which is considered a wing of the U.S.-designated Marxist PKK terror group, said in the statement that they were not explicitly targeting tourists, but they added, “But Turkey is no longer safe for you” and discouraged tourists from visiting Istanbul and other destinations attractive for vacation-goers.
The Freedom Falcons somewhat contradict previous statements in claiming they are not targeting tourists. In February, when the group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Ankara, TAK issued a statement praising the “sacrifice warrior’s” targeting of a military convoy, but explicitly designated tourism as a target.
“Tourism … is a major target we aim to destroy. We warn the foreign and native tourists not [to] go to the touristic areas in Turkey. We are not responsible for who will die in the attacks targeting those areas,” the statement read.
TAK also took responsibility for a bombing a month later in Ankara that killed 37 people. Turkey’s Interior Ministry identified the bomber in that case as 24-year-old Seher Cagla Demir. Hurriyet notes that the suicide bomber identified in this week’s Istanbul bombing was also a woman, and can be seen in surveillance footage walking alone to the car before detonating it. The newspaper adds that she “arrived in Istanbul 20 days before the attack” to conduct “reconnaissance on the scene.”
The TAK has not claimed a suicide bombing the day after, on Wednesday, in the town of Midyat. The PKK, its parent group, claimed responsibility for that attack, which also targeted police officers.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has conducted a blistering military campaign in Kurdish areas of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq against the PKK and its allies, issued a statement Tuesday condemning the attacks. “Let me be clear, terrorist organizations distinguishing between civilians, soldiers and police does not mean anything to us. The end target is always human beings,” he said. “We will continue our fight against terrorism fearlessly.”
Erdogan’s government defines Kurdish terrorism broadly to include any group that appears to work with the PKK, even when fighting a common enemy like the Islamic State. This has caused some tensions with the United States, as Turkey has designated the Syria-based Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish militia a terrorist organization working in tandem with the PKK. The U.S. government does not officially recognize the YPG as a terrorist group and has cooperated with them in the fight against the Islamic State.
The U.S. Department of Defense has made statements suggesting that America views the YPG as an ally of the PKK, which the United States does recognize as a terrorist group. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told Congress in May that the YPG is “aligned or at least have substantial ties to the PKK.” A Pentagon spokesman shortly thereafter said that the United States will stand with Turkey against “any terrorist group,” leaving open the question of whether that will mean a change in attitudes towards the YPG.