Istanbul blast: Suspect's alleged links with Kurdish group YPG puts spotlight on US

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Istanbul blast: Suspect's alleged links with Kurdish group YPG puts spotlight on US
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In a recent video released on social media, Turkish police can be seen nabbing the main suspect, wearing a “New York” t-shirt, from her home just a day after the horrific bombing at Istiklal Avenue, a popular shopping destination for tourists in Istanbul.

Turkish policemen try to secure the area after a strong explosion of unknown origin shook the busy shopping street of Istiklal in Istanbul, on November 13, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

By Bidisha Saha: Turkey has claimed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and People’s Defense Units (YPG) militant group from Syria are responsible for the blast on November 13 that has killed 6 people and injured 81 so far. Although PKK and YPG have denied such allegations, the relationship between the US and its funded YPG is under scrutiny, owing to which Turkey has even refused to accept condolences from the nation.

SYRIAN SUSPECT ADMITS CONNECTION WITH PKK AND YPG

The main suspect is a Special Intelligence Officer of “Syrian nationality”, as per the police statement to a private television network. They also claimed that the suspect had received orders from PKK, which is listed as a terrorist group under Ankara and trained under YPG. The YPG is its Syrian offshoot but is a part of US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces that fought the IS (Islamic State) militants in northern Syria. Police have also detained 46 other people in connection with the incident.

IS YPG CONNECTED TO THE US?

The People’s Defense Units (YPG) were formed in 2011 to defend the people of Rojava during the civil war against attacks from the Syrian regime and other reactionary forces. It is affiliated with the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

The United States has offered support to YPG in its fight against the IS militia but repeatedly denied the claim of Turkey that it is part of the PKK. Earlier at a press briefing in 2016, Mark C Toner, Deputy Spokesperson of Washington, DC said “our belief is that the YPG is not connected to the PKK, which we have designated as a foreign terrorist organization. On the contrary, we believe the YPG, as well as other forces in Syria, in northern Syria, are effectively taking the fight to ISIL and we’re going to continue to support them with our advice and assist operations there.”

BRIEF HISTORY OF TURKEY’S OPPOSITION TO YPG

In September 2016, US spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force, Colonel John Dorrian confirmed that the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces), including the YPG, was also part of the “vetted forces” trained in the “Syria Train & Equip fund” program and would be supplied with weapons.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the move by saying that “By giving them weapons, you’re endangering our future”

In response, the US spokesperson of the anti-ISIL coalition stated that they “carefully monitor where that ammunition goes”, and that these weapons were only used in the campaign against ISIL.

In 2017, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said “The PKK terrorists who are responsible for the last terrorist attacks, suicide bomb attacks in Ankara, Istanbul, all came from YPG camps in Syria,” warning that the YPG is “just an extension” of the PKK.

YPG/PKK BEHIND TAKSIM SQUARE BLAST?

Interior Minister of Turkey Suleyman Soylu spoke to the media on Monday, saying, “Our assessment is that the order for the deadly terror attack came from Ayn al-Arab in northern Syria, where the PKK/YPG has its Syrian headquarters”. He has blamed the militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) and the People’s Defense Units (YPG).

Soylu also added that Turkey “will not accept messages of condolence” from the United States.

The United States released a statement on November 13 condemning the attack and expressing condolences, “We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our NATO Ally Turkiye in countering terrorism.”

The Presidential Communication Director of Turkey, Fahrettin Altun, said, “The international community must pay attention. Terror attacks against our civilians are direct and indirect consequences of some countries’ support for terror groups. They must immediately cease their direct and indirect support if they want Türkiye’s friendship.”

SYRIAN RESPONSE ON THE ALLEGATIONS

The commander of Syrian Democratic Forces, Mazloum Abdi, has denied allegations that the Kurdish-led SDF was involved in the terrorist attack on Sunday, as reported by Reuters.

The YPG also issued its own statement on its official website on Monday. “We categorically deny any link to Ahlam al-Bashir, the perpetrator of the terrorist attack,” said Nouri Mahmoud, a spokesperson.

ARREST OF AHLAM ALBASHIR

The footage posted on Twitter by an OSINT handle shows Turkish police forces entering the house of the woman and nabbing her into custody.

Other CCTV images on social media show the suspect fleeing from Istiklal Avenue on Sunday with a few roses in her hand, moments before the blast that caused a huge wreck at a busy shopping street, wounding at least 81 people.

Turkish police, in its statement, has named the suspect Ahlam Albashir, who is a Special Intelligence Officer trained by the YPG in Syria as admitted during interrogation. She has claimed to take orders from the Kurdish-led PKK in Kobani, Syria its headquarters, and entered the country illegally through Afrin.

As per a Turkish news agency, police examined 1200 CCTV cameras in the Taksim Square area of Istanbul to catch the terrorist. The camouflage pants that she wore during the bombing incident were also found in the house she was caught by the police.

Geolocated using visual indicators at Taksim Square

The Governor of Istanbul, Ali Yerlikaya took to Twitter to announce the death toll and details after the explosion.

Among those who died were social worker Yusuf Meydan and his nine-year-old daughter, Ecrin. They were tourists who visited from Adana in Turkey to Istanbul for the engagement of Yusuf’s brother. At the time of the explosion, his wife was inside a shop and incurred injuries.





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