ANKARA, Turkey — The suicide bomber who struck the U.S. Embassy in Ankara spent several years in prison on terrorism charges, but was released on probation after being diagnosed with a hunger strike-related brain disorder, officials said.
The bomber, identified as 40-year-old leftist militant Ecevit Sanli, killed himself and a Turkish security guard on Friday, in what U.S. officials said was a terrorist attack. Sanli was armed with enough TNT to blow up a two-story building and also detonated a hand grenade, officials said.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that police think the bomber was connected to his nation’s outlawed leftist militant group, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP-C as it is known by its Turkish acronym.
On Saturday, the DHKP-C claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on a website linked to the group. It said Sanli carried out the act of “self-sacrifice” on behalf of the group.
Calling itself “immortal,” the group said: “Down with imperialism and the collaborating oligarchy.”
But it gave no reason for attacking the U.S. Embassy.
The authenticity of the website was confirmed by a government terrorism analyst who spoke on the condition of anonymity in line with rules that bar government employees from speaking to reporters without prior authorization.
Turkey’s private NTV television, meanwhile, said that police during operations in Ankara and Istanbul detained three people Saturday who may be connected to the U.S. Embassy attack. Two of the suspects were being questioned by police in Ankara, while the third was arrested in Istanbul and was being brought to Ankara.
NTV, citing unidentified security sources, said one of the suspects is a man whose identity Sanli is said to have used to enter Turkey illegally, while the second was suspected of forging identity papers. There was no information about the third suspect.
Earlier, Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler said Sanli had fled Turkey after he was released from prison in 2001, but managed to return to the country “illegally,” using a fake ID. It was not clear how long before the attack he had returned to Turkey.
NTV said he is thought to have come to Turkey from Germany, crossing into Turkey from Greece. Police officials in Ankara could not be reached for comment.
The DHKP-C has claimed responsibility for assassinations and bombings since the 1970s, but it has been relatively quiet in recent years. Compared to al Qaeda, it has not been seen as a strong terrorist threat.
Sanli’s motives remained unclear.
But some Turkish government officials have linked the attack to the arrest last month of dozens of suspected members of the DHKP-C group in a nationwide sweep.
Speculation also has abounded that the bombing was related to the perceived support of the U.S. for Turkey’s harsh criticism of the regime in Syria, whose brutal civil war has forced tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to seek shelter in Turkey. But Mr. Erdogan has denied that.