February 3, 2023

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Turkey has accused the US of complicity in the Istanbul attack

ISTANBUL – Turkish authorities on Monday arrested a woman they suspect was behind the deadly bombing in central Istanbul a day earlier, saying she was sent to Turkey by Kurdish militants from Syria to help the to perform an attack.

Sunday’s bomb attack on a crowded shopping street popular with both Turks and tourists killed six people – all Turkish nationals – belonging to three different families, officials said. It was the deadliest attack of its kind in Turkey in more than five years and brings back painful memories of the days when Kurdish and Islamic State militants often bombed Turkish cities.

Turkey has accused the United States of complicity in the attack because America has long had a military partnership with a Kurdish-led militia in Syria. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, during a visit to the scene of the attack on Monday, dismissed condolences from the United States, saying it was as if “the killer was one of the first to return to the scene.”

The United States is a Turkey ally in NATO, but Mr Soylu’s accusation of complicity was rooted in the US’ long-standing partnership with a Kurdish-led militia in northeastern Syria formed to fight the Islamic State, which is partly a so-called Caliphate ruled from Syria and Iraq for years.

American officials have hailed their Kurdish-led partners in Syria as reliable and effective combatants who have been vital in US-led efforts to destroy the Islamic State, which was driven from its last piece of territory in Syria in March 2019.

But that partnership has infuriated Turkey, which sees the Syrian militia as a branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a Kurdish group that has been at war with the Turkish state for decades. Turkey, the United States and the European Union all consider the PKK a terrorist organization.

The US Embassy in Turkey wrote on Twitter on Sunday that it was “deeply saddened” by the bombing.

“We send our deepest condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives and wish those injured a speedy recovery,” it said.

On Monday, Istanbul police identified the suspect in the bombing as Ahlam al-Bashir and said she was arrested overnight in Istanbul.

Police said they illegally entered Turkey from northern Syria to carry out the attack, adding that they received orders from Kobani, a Kurdish town in northern Syria. The explosion was caused by a small amount of TNT left in a bag on the street, police said.

Authorities searched footage from 1,200 security cameras, searched 21 locations and arrested 46 others before finding them, the police statement said.

During his visit to the bombing site, Mr Soylu vowed Turkey would retaliate without details and lamented the disruption of years of calm.

“We are ashamed in front of our people in this matter,” he said.

For many Turks, the bombing brought back memories of tense days from 2015-2017, when such attacks were more common.

The dead included a father and his 9-year-old daughter; a couple; and a mother and her 15-year-old daughter, officials said. More than 80 people were injured.

Istiklal Avenue, where the bombing took place, was open Monday and visitors laid red flowers at a memorial on site to commemorate the dead.