Turkey blamed Kurdish militants for Sunday’s bomb attack that killed six people and wounded dozens in central Istanbul, and vowed to avenge the attack as it likened the US to a “murderer” for its support of Kurdish rebels in Syria.
Interior minister Süleyman Soylu said on Monday that police had arrested 22 people, including the suspected bomber, whom other authorities said was a woman who left the explosive in a bag on İstiklal Avenue as thousands of people strolled along the pedestrianised street.
“We have an assessment that the order for the action came from Kobani,” said Soylu, referring to a city in northern Syria held by a US-allied Kurdish militia. He added that the suspected bomber may have visited the Syrian province of Afrin, which is controlled by Turkish troops.
“I think it is essential to view the condolence message from America as the murderer being one of the first to arrive at the scene of the crime,” Soylu said in a televised statement. He said Turkey would “respond” to this message as well to those directly responsible for the attack.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Twitter the US condemned the bombing in Istanbul and expressed sympathy for those who lost loved ones in the attack.
Nato member Turkey has long demanded the US end its support for the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-dominated militia that fought with the US against Isis, because of its ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ party, listed by Washington and Ankara as a terrorist organisation for its four-decade insurgency in Turkey. The US has armed and trained the SDF and has an estimated 800 troops in north-eastern Syria who work with the SDF.
The Turkish military has undertaken a series of incursions into Syria since 2016 to fight Kurdish forces and Isis and occupies a wide swath of Syrian territory along its border. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeatedly pledged this year that his army would invade again, but analysts said a failure to secure the green light from Russia and Iran, who back Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, has delayed the operation.
Those killed in Sunday’s blast included a young girl and her father, who worked for the ministry of family and social services, the minister Derya Yanık said on Twitter. The six dead victims were all Turkish citizens.
The historic İstiklal Avenue is lined with shops, restaurants and consulates and is a popular destination for Turks and tourists.
The attack echoed a wave of bombings in Turkey in the mid-2010s by Isis and Kurdish militants, in which hundreds of people were killed. It has stoked fears that violence could resume ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2023.
The attack could also threaten the tourism industry which brings Turkey’s crisis-hit economy billions of dollars of foreign currency. Justice minister Bekir Bozdağ told a television station that the attackers chose İstiklal with the aim of targeting foreigners.