The banned Kurdish workers’ party PKK has denied responsibility for the attack that killed six in Istanbul. An attack on the civilian population on Turkish soil was out of the question, according to a statement published by the PKK-affiliated news agency ANF on Monday. The group does not support attacks aimed directly at civilians.

The Turkish police had previously announced that the arrested main suspect – a Syrian – had received her “order” from the “PKK/YPG/PYD”. From Turkey’s point of view, the Syrian Kurdish militias YPG and its political arm PYD are offshoots of the PKK. Ankara lists all groups as terrorist organizations.

The statement also said that the Turkish government wanted to divert attention from the use of chemical weapons against Kurdish militias, among other things. Ankara was recently accused of using chemical weapons against PKK positions during a military operation in northern Iraq. Turkey denies the allegations.

In connection with yesterday’s attack, there were 46 arrests, it said. Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu had previously spoken of 22 arrests along with the main suspect.

Six people were killed and more than 80 injured in the attack on the busy shopping street on Sunday. The Turkish government had previously stated that a woman was suspected of planting a bomb on the promenade, which is also popular with tourists. Vice President Fuat Oktay described the attack as a “terrorist attack”.

Scholz: Thoughts are with the relatives of the victims

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) offered his condolences to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the attack. Scholz wrote that he was dismayed to hear the news of the explosion in downtown Istanbul, which suddenly killed innocent people and wounded many more. “Our thoughts are with the families of the victims, we wish the wounded a speedy recovery.”

Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also expressed her sympathy. “Terrible pictures come from Istanbul,” said the Green politician on Twitter. “My thoughts are with the people who just wanted to stroll down Istiklal shopping street on a Sunday and have now fallen victim to a massive explosion.” US President Joe Biden’s spokeswoman, Karine Jean-Pierre, condemned the “act of violence”. “We stand side by side with our NATO ally Turkey in the fight against terrorism,” she said.

The Istiklal shopping street is a tourist hotspot in the center of the European part of the Turkish metropolis, which is often crowded even on Sundays. It was initially unclear whether Germans or members of other nations were among the victims.

Turkey rejects US condolences

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu addressed sharp words to the United States in connection with the attack in Istanbul. Soylu repeated his accusation that Washington supported “terrorist organizations” in northern Syria and declared on Monday: “We do not accept the condolences of the American ambassador, we reject them.” Like other missions abroad, the US consulate and embassy had sharply condemned the attack that left six dead and expressed condolences to the victims.

The USA sees the YPG in the Syrian civil war as a partner in the fight against the terrorist militia Islamic State (IS).

News blackout imposed

Most of the reporting on the attack was stopped in Turkish media. The Rtük broadcasting authority imposed a temporary news ban on the media. Reports of the explosion should be avoided so as not to cause fear and panic among the population, the letter said in the afternoon. The Authority for Information Technology and Communications (BTK) also reportedly reduced the bandwidth for social media platforms in the evening. For users, this meant that pages were significantly slower or only accessible via VPN.

PKK is on the terror list

There have been repeated attacks in Turkey in the past – including in the center of Istanbul. In 2016, for example, a suicide bomber blew himself up on Istiklal, killing four people and injuring 39 others. According to the Turkish government, the assassin had connections to the Islamic State (IS) terrorist militia. The group itself did not confess to the fact at the time.

The banned Kurdish Workers’ Party PKK has also repeatedly carried out attacks in Turkey. The PKK is on terrorist lists in Turkey, Europe and the US, and has positions in south-eastern Turkey and northern Iraq. Their headquarters are in the northern Iraqi Kandil Mountains. Ankara regularly takes action against the PKK and has maintained military posts in northern Iraq since 2016.

The conflict, which has been going on since 1984, has so far claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people. A ceasefire failed in the summer of 2015.