Turkey says Kurdish militants may be behind deadly soccer bombing

PHOTO: AFP

ISTANBUL - Turkey said on Sunday that Kurdish militants may be responsible for the two bombs that killed 29 people and wounded 166 in an apparent coordinated attack on police outside a soccer stadium in Istanbul after a match between two top teams.

The blasts on Saturday night - a car bomb outside the Vodafone Arena home to Istanbul's Besiktas soccer team followed by a suicide bomb attack in an adjacent park less than a minute later - shook a soccer-mad nation still trying to recover from a series of deadly bombing this year in cities including Istanbul and the capital Ankara.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said that early indications pointed to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has carried out a three-decade armed insurgency, mainly in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast.

Ten people have been detained so far, he said.

"The arrows point at the PKK," Kurtulmus told broadcaster CNN Turk in an interview. "There will be an announcement once the investigations are over. We cannot say anything definite for now."

Twin blasts rock Istanbul football stadium

  • Two explosions, one thought to have been a suicide bomb, killed 15 people and wounded 69 outside a football stadium in Istanbul, security sources said, in an attack that appeared to target police hours after a match between two of Turkey's top teams.
  • President Tayyip Erdogan described the blasts outside the Vodafone Arena, home to Istanbul's Besiktas football team, as a terrorist attack on police and civilians.
  • He said the aim had been to cause the maximum number of casualties.
  • Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said one of the explosions hit directly outside the stadium, while the suspected suicide bomber struck in the adjacent Macka park.
  • There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
  • Three separate security sources said at least 13 people had been killed but there was no official confirmation of this.
  • A Reuters photographer said many riot police officers were seriously wounded.
  • A police water cannon doused the wreckage of a burned-out car and there were two separate fires on the road outside the stadium.
  • "It was like hell. The flames went all the way up to the sky. I was drinking tea at the cafe next to the mosque," said Omer Yilmaz, who works as a cleaner at the nearby Dolmabahce mosque, directly across the road from the stadium.
  • Turkey has been hit by a series of bombings in recent years, some blamed on Islamic State militants, others claimed by Kurdish and far-leftist militant groups.

He said Turkey's allies should show solidarity with it in the fight against terrorism, a reference to the long-standing disagreement with fellow NATO member Washington over Syria policy.

The United States backs the Syrian Kurdish YPG in the fight against Islamic State. Turkey says that the militia is an extension of the PKK and a terrorist group.

Flags were to be flown at half mast and Sunday was declared a day of national mourning, the prime minister's office said in a statement.

President Tayyip Erdogan cancelled a planned trip to Kazakhstan, his office said. Erdogan described the blasts as a terrorist attack on police and civilians. He said the aim of the bombings, two hours after the end of a match attended by thousands of people, had been to cause the maximum number of casualties.

"Nobody should doubt that with God's will, we as a country and a nation will overcome terror, terrorist organisations ... and the forces behind them," he said in a statement.

"It was like hell. The flames went all the way up to the sky. I was drinking tea at the cafe next to the mosque," said Omer Yilmaz, who works as a cleaner at the nearby Dolmabahce mosque, directly across the road from the stadium.

"People ducked under the tables, women began crying. Football fans drinking tea at the cafe sought shelter, it was horrible," he told Reuters.

Turkey faces multiple security threats. In addition to the Kurdish insurgency, it is also battling Islamic State as a member of the U.S.-led coalition against the Sunni hardline group. Less than a week ago, Islamic State urged its supporters to target Turkey's "security, military, economic and media establishment".

VICTIMS MAINLY POLICE

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said earlier the first explosion, which came around two hours after the end of the match between Besiktas and Bursaspor, was at an assembly point for riot police officers.

The second came as police surrounded the suicide bomber in the nearby Macka park.

Two of those killed in the blasts were civilians. The other 27 were police officers, including a police chief and another senior officer, Soylu said. He said 17 of the wounded were undergoing surgery and another six were in intensive care.

Soylu said evidence gathered from the detonated vehicle had led to the 10 arrests.

A Reuters photographer said many riot police officers were seriously wounded. Armed police sealed off streets. A police water cannon doused the wreckage of a burned-out car and there were two separate fires on the road outside the stadium.

Bursaspor said none of its fans appeared to have been injured. Both it and Besiktas condemned the bombings.

"Those attacking our nation's unity and solidarity will never win," Sports Minister Akif Cagatay Kilic said on Twitter. Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan, also writing on Twitter, described it as a terrorist attack.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned what he described as "horrific acts of terror", while European leaders also sent messages of solidarity. The United States condemned the attack and said it stood with its NATO ally.

The bombings come five months after Turkey was shaken by a failed military coup, in which more than 240 people were killed, many of them in Istanbul, as rogue soldiers commandeered tanks and fighter jets in a bid to seize power.

Istanbul has seen several other attacks this year, including in June, when around 45 people were killed and hundreds wounded as three suspected Islamic State militants carried out a gun and bomb attack on its main Ataturk airport.

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