A Kurdish guerrilla group claimed Wednesday that it executed two Turkish police officers, accusing the officers of collaborating with the Islamic State to pull off a suicide bombing that targeted Kurdish and Turkish activists earlier this week.
The statement by a unit of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, linking the officers to the Monday blast that killed at least 32 in the border city of Suruc mixed two volatile parts of Turkey’s incendiary political scene: the government’s three-decade war with the PKK and deep suspicions that the government has, at a minimum, favored the Islamic State in its battle with a Kurdish militia in Syria.
The PKK statement said the two police officers, who were found dead in the apartment they rented in Ceylanpinar, near the Syrian border, had been killed at 6 a.m. “as retaliation for the Suruc massacre.”
It identified the officers as Feyyaz Ozsahra and Okan Acar and said that “their identification and guns were confiscated.”
The statement said “a team of assassins” carried out the attack “in support of” jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, but it did not suggest he had been involved in planning or ordering the killings.
Ocalan, who’s been jailed since 1999, has been negotiating a permanent settlement to his three-decade insurgency with the government. But the killing of the Turkish officers threatened to undo a cease-fire that was declared in the conflict more than two years ago. A high-level Turkish official working in the office of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called Wednesday’s killings a “turning point.”
The killings came as Turkey announced that a Turkish national of Kurdish descent had carried out Monday’s suicide bombing, which touched off two days of anti-government disturbances in Istanbul.
The Turkish official, who spoke under the condition that he not be identified discussing an unresolved legal case, said that Monday’s bomber had been linked to the perpetrator of a June 5 suicide attack on a Kurdish election rally in the city of Diyarbakir. That bombing killed four people.
The official said that the two bombers had been friends and that both had gone to Syria on Oct. 14, 2014, to join the Islamic State. He identified the two bombers by initials: S.A.A., the bomber in Suruc, and O.G., the bomber in Diayarbakir.
Turkish media outlets identified Monday’s bomber as Seyh Abdurrahman Alagoz and displayed on social media copies of his identification card, which allegedly was found at the blast scene.
The Turkish official said that in May, S.A.A.’s father had notified the police that his son was missing and that he and other relatives were suspected of having joined the Islamic State.
The official said that an estimated 1,100 Turkish citizens are believed to have joined the Islamic State, but he did not distinguish between ethnic Kurds and Turks in his estimate. He said both the Suruc bomber and the Diayarbakir one were from Adiyaman, a conservative Kurdish enclave in southeastern Turkey where opposition to the secular and leftist PKK is strong.
The official also suggested that the advance inside Syria of a Kurdish militia affiliated with the PKK, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, may have spurred religiously conservative Kurds to join the Islamic State. The Turkish government has sharply criticized the United States for coordinating airstrikes with the YPG. The official said the U.S. assistance to the YPG is blinding it to the negative effect of the militia’s success against the Islamic State.
“The West is only drawing attention to the radicalization of people because of the Islamic State, but there are also people getting more radicalized because of YPG pressure,” he said. “By this, I don’t mean (the) Islamic State is better, but both lead to radicalization in the area.”
Turkey has accused the PKK of breaking the cease-fire on several occasions in the past two years, but this appears to be the first instance of the group openly admitting to military action against the Turkish security services. Last year, the PKK also took credit for an attack on what it described as an Islamic State office in Istanbul.
The PKK and opposition politicians in Turkey repeatedly have accused the Turkish government of supporting the Islamic State, a charge that Turkey’s Western allies have been reluctant to make directly, though the allies – Turkey is a member of NATO – have urged the Turkish government to do more to stop the flow of recruits that pass from Turkey into Islamic State areas along the border.
In recent weeks, Turkey has appeared to move to crack down on Islamic State cells in the border region, arresting scores of suspected supporters and recruiters and blocking Turkish-language websites supporting the group.