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Turkey Blames Kurds for Istanbul Blast, Hinting at Cross-Border Retaliation in Syria 

As Turkey blames an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for Sunday’s deadly explosion on Istanbul’s main shopping street, analysts warn of a harsh response from Ankara that could even see a cross-border strike on the group’s base in neighboring Syria. 

The bombing that killed six people came less than three months after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to attack the Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria. Turkey also recently stepped up a campaign against the PKK in northern Iraq, killing dozens. 

“It may be a retaliation of the PKK to terrorize the Turkish public and target the Turkish economy and tourism sector. If my guess proves right and the PKK is behind this attack, a new Turkish cross border operation can be expected,” Omer Özkizilcik, an Ankara-based foreign policy and security analyst, told The Media Line.

Over the summer, Erdogan spoke about launching another military operation in Syria to target the YPG.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the Syrian woman who is believed to have detonated the bomb has been arrested along with more than 20 others, according to Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu.

Soylu added that 81 people were wounded and that the order for the attack came from northern Syria, where the Kurdish militia has its headquarters.

“We will retaliate against those who are responsible for this heinous terror attack,” Soylu said.

The explosion happened shortly after 4 p.m. local time when the street was busy with shoppers and tourists. A three-year-old girl and her father were among the dead. 

Before his departure for the current G20 summit in Bali, the Turkish president also vowed to punish the perpetrators of the “vile attack.” 

Turkey suffered a series of attacks by ISIS and Kurdish militants between 2015 and 2016, some of which targeted tourist spots.

A 2016 attack on the same street killed five people just a few minutes’ walk away from Sunday’s blast.

According to Özkizilcik, the two groups likely to carry out such an attack were ISIS and the PKK, the latter of which prefers to use women in attacks.

Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst for the risk intelligence company Rane, also predicted a harsh Turkish response to the attack.  

Ankara “will engage in a security crackdown against their assigned culprit. I expect a widespread security crackdown on whatever element they eventually blame,” Bohl told The Media Line.

He added that if Kurdish militants were responsible, then they would likely be trying to provoke an overreaction from the Turkish government, directed at Kurds, in order to fuel anti-government sentiment. 

“It lacks strategic logic for anyone except someone trying to radicalize the Turkish people,” Bohl stated.

Turkish access to social media accounts was restricted following the explosion, according to data from internet watchdog Netblocks, and a partial reporting ban also came into effect.

In October, the Turkish government introduced a new law that allowed for a person to be imprisoned for up to three years for spreading what was deemed false information.

The explosion comes as the country gears up for national elections set to take place by June 2023.

The Turkish president’s popularity has declined amid an economic crisis that has included massive inflation that is officially reported at more than 80 percent.

However, he has recently gained some ground but is still behind several opposition members in head-to-head races.

The presidential and parliamentary elections, held at the same time, are expected to be tight but the opposition coalition would be a stronger electoral threat for Erdogan if it allied with the pro-Kurdish HDP.

The HDP has regularly faced accusations from Erdogan’s party that it is supportive of terrorism and the PKK, which it denies.