BEIRUT (AP) — Turkish warplanes launched a new round of airstrikes against Kurdish militant targets in Iraq on Wednesday hours after the foreign minister warned that Turkey would hit the militant group's positions in Syria and Iraq in retaliation for a suicide bombing in Ankara earlier this week.
The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack outside the Interior Ministry in Ankara in which one attacker blew himself up and another would-be bomber was killed in a shootout with police. Two police were wounded in the attack.
The Turkish jets targeted 22 suspected PKK positions in northern Iraq on Wednesday, destroying caves, shelters and depots used by the militants, the Turkish defense ministry said. The PKK maintains bases in the region, where its leadership has a foothold.
It was the Turkish air force's third airstrike against suspected Kurdish militant sites in northern Iraq following the attack, which came as parliament prepared to reopen after a long summer recess. Meanwhile, dozens of people suspected of links to the PKK have been detained in a series of raids across Turkey.
Ankara said a large number of PKK militants were “neutralized” in the strikes.
There was no immediate comment from Kurdish officials in Iraq.
Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan told a news conference that Turkish intelligence officials have established that the two assailants arrived from Syria, where they had been trained. He said Turkey would now target facilities in Syria and Iraq belonging to the PKK, or its affiliated Kurdish militia group in Syria, which is known as People's Defense Units, or YPG.
“From now on, all infrastructure, superstructure and energy facilities belonging to the PKK or the YPG in Iraq and Syria are legitimate targets of our security forces, armed forces and intelligence elements,” Fidan said. “Our armed forces’ response to this terrorist attack will be extremely clear and they will regret committing such an act."
A Syrian Kurdish commander denied on Wednesday that the Ankara attackers were trained in Syria or crossed into Turkey from Syria.
Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Force that controls large parts of northeastern Syria tweeted that those who carried out the attack in Ankara “did not pass through our territories.”
The Syrian Kurdish-led force is a coalition of several factions, including the YPG.
“We are not a side in the internal conflict in Turkey,” Abdi wrote. He added that Turkey is looking “for a pretext to legitimatize its continuous attacks on our region and to launch a new aggression and this is raising our concerns.”
Abdi, who is wanted by Turkey on terrorism charges, said that targeting the infrastructure and economic targets in northeast Syria and cities “is considered a war crime.”
Fidan later joined a previously unannounced security meeting with Turkey's interior minister, defense minister, top military commander and intelligence chief, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Iraqi Defense Minister Thabet Muhammad Al-Abbasi was scheduled to visit Turkey on Thursday, the agency also reported.
The PKK has led a decades-long insurgency in Turkey and is considered a terror organization by the United States and the European Union. Tens of thousands of people have died since the start of the conflict in 1984.
Meanwhile, Turkish intelligence agents killed a wanted Kurdish militant in an operation in Syria, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported Wednesday.
The militant, identified as Nabo Kele Hayri, who also went by Mazlum Afrin, was wanted for his alleged role in planning an attack last year on Istanbul’s main pedestrian street, Istiklal. The attack killed six people.