ANKARA: At least 18 people were killed Sunday when a van packed with five tonnes of explosives blew up in Turkey’s restive southeast in an attack blamed on Kurdish militants, the prime minister said.
The bombing, which killed 10 soldiers and eight civilians, was one of the single deadliest attacks on the Turkish security forces since the attempted coup of July 15 when a rogue military faction tried to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“The attack was perpetrated by a suicide bomber who detonated a van (packed) with five tonnes of explosives,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told a press conference in Istanbul.
Earlier reports put the toll at nine dead after the attack which targeted a security post in Hakkari province.
The explosion occurred as security forces were searching vehicles in Semdinli district, the official news agency Anadolu said.
Another 26 people — 10 soldiers and 16 civilians — were injured in the blast which was blamed on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Anadolu said.
The blast left a gaping hole in the road which was 10-15 metres wide and up to seven metres (22 foot) deep, Anadolu said. It also caused major damage to the main gate of the security post.
Soon after the attack, the military confirmed it had begun a large-scale air operation.
And, as in previous attacks, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) issued a temporary ban on images from the scene and of the victims, it said on its website.
‘Heinous terror attack’
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus described Sunday’s attack as an “atrocious” and “heinous terrorist attack”, vowing on Twitter that Turkey would never surrender to militant groups.
Over the past two months, the military says it has killed a total of 387 PKK militants in Hakkari province, CNN-Turk reported.
The PKK has waged a 32-year insurgency against the Turkish state, which has left nearly 40,000 dead since 1984. The group is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Since the collapse of a two-and-a-half-year ceasefire in July 2015, more than 600 security forces and over 7,000 PKK militants have been killed, according to Anadolu.
Over the past 15 months, attacks on the Turkish security forces have continued on an almost daily basis as the government has pressed military operations against the PKK to rid urban areas of fighters.
Fight will go on
Yildirim vowed that Turkey would continue with determination its “fight against the separatist terrorist organisation (PKK)… and all kinds of terrorist organisations” including jihadists from the Islamic State (IS) group.
The bombing comes a day after two suspects believed to have been preparing a car bomb attack blew themselves up on the outskirts of Ankara when police ordered them to surrender.
Turkish officials said they believed the pair were linked to the PKK.
The attack also took place a day before the year anniversary of the bloodiest attack in Turkey’s modern history when 103 people were killed and more than 500 wounded in twin suicide bombings targeting a pro-Kurdish peace rally in the capital, Ankara.
That attack was blamed on IS.