- The Washington Times - Friday, June 10, 2016

A Kurdish militant group claimed responsibility Friday for the rush-hour car bombing that killed 11 people and injured scores of others in a central tourist district in the Turkish city of Istanbul this week, saying the blast was the start of a new war with Turkey’s government.

The group known as the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, or TAK, is considered to be an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which is listed by Washington as a terrorist organization and has been engaged in an three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.

In a statement posted online Friday, the TAK denounced the ruling Justice and Development Party of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and said that it had carried out Tuesday’s car bombing in Instanbul as a retaliation for a recent Turkish Army operation that Mr. Erdogan has authorized against Kurds in the nation’s Kurdish-dominated southeast.

“The action was carried out to counter all the savage attacks of the Turkish Republic in Nusaybin and Sirnak and other places,” the group said, referring to the areas in the southeast where the army had been carrying out operations against Kurdish militants.

“We again warn foreign tourists who are in Turkey and who want to come to Turkey: foreigners are not our target but Turkey is no longer a reliable country for them,” it added, according to Agence France-Presse.

The statement also warned tourists that Turkey was no longer secure for them. “You are not our targets but Turkey is no longer safe for you,” it read. “We have just started the war.”

Tension with Washington

Friday’s development is likely to add to a fresh layer of tension to complex relations between Turkey, a NATO ally, and Washington, who have divergent views of the Kurdish situation in the region.

The Obama administration’s reliance on Kurdish fighters as ground forces in the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State extremists in nearby Syria and Iraq is seen to have incensed the Erdogan government in Turkey.

While Mr. Erdogan is allowing the U.S. military to run airstrikes against Islamic State targets from Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, Washington has struggled to engage Ankara as a reliable partner in the fight against the terror group known as ISIS and ISIL.

U.S. officials have expressed concerns that Turkey aims to use the ISIS war as a pretext to crush the very Kurdish militants that Washington wants to play a major role in retaking territory from ISIS in northern Syria and Iraq during the coming months.

Tension over the matter spilled into the open in late May, when the Erdogan government criticized Washington for allowing U.S. special operations advisers to wear Kurdish insignia on their uniforms during a counter-ISIS operation in Syria.

The insignia was from the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG), a Kurdish militant group that Washington has aligned with despite the Erdogan government’s assertion that it’s a terrorist organization on par with ISIS and al Qaeda.

Days after photos circulated of the U.S. forces wearing the insignia, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter sought to smooth relations with Ankara by asserting that the operation that was being spearheaded by an “Arab-led force,” not Kurds.

Mr. Erdogan reportedly responded that he would support such operations as long as they were being run by Arabs.

Surge in attacks

U.S. officials claim the YPG is not involved with other Kurdish militants that have claimed responsibility for recent terrorist attacks inside Turkey.

But Ankara has shown little interest in distinguishing between Kurdish groups.

The TAK, which claimed responsibility for this week’s car bombing in Istanbul, is considered to be an offshoot of PKK, which, like the YPG, is deemed by Ankara to be a terrorist organization.

In its statement Friday, the TAK criticized what it described as the Erdogan government’s “wild war” against Kurds.

Turkey’s southeast plunged into violence last summer when a 2½-year fragile truce between the Turkish government and Kurdish rebels collapsed.

The Istanbul bombing was followed Wednesday by a suicide attack in the southeastern town of Midyat that killed three police officers and three civilians. On Thursday, the PKK said the Midyat attack was carried out by one of its “comrades,” code name Dirok Amed.

While the TAK is believed to have carried out two other deadly suicide bombings this year in Ankara, the PKK routinely attacks military and police targets in southeastern Turkey.

The Turkish military has responded with large-scale and at times heavy-handed security operations to flush Kurdish rebels out of the region — leaving hundreds dead, displacing entire communities and extensively damaging urban infrastructure.

With that as a backdrop, rights groups have accused the Erdogan government of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses against the Kurds.

Carlo Muñoz contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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