A car bombing blamed on Kurdish militants rocked the Turkish city of Izmir on Thursday, killing at least two people and triggering a deadly shootout, as authorities chased the fugitive killer behind the New Year’s attack in Istanbul.
Turkey is on edge after the shooting rampage at the Reina nightclub which killed 39 people and was claimed by the Islamic State group.
A top official said the shooter might be a Turkic Uighur and several people of Uighur origin were arrested earlier on Thursday.
Just four days after the nightclub carnage, a car bomb exploded outside a courthouse in the Aegean city of Izmir on Thursday afternoon, with authorities blaming the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
A policeman and a court worker, reportedly a bailiff, were killed, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Veysel Kaynak told reporters.
Police battled “terrorists” in a clash which saw two militants killed, he said, adding that another escaped and is now being pursued.
The usually peaceful port city, Turkey’s third-largest metropolis, is the gateway to the plush beach resorts of the Aegean and rarely sees violence on this scale. It is west of the PKK’s main theatre in the southeast of the country.
Izmir Governor Erol Ayyildiz said that initial evidence suggested that the PKK — which has fought a deadly insurgency for over three decades — was behind the attack.
The policeman tried to stop the car before it exploded and the “terrorists” then sought to escape as the explosion went off and the gunfight began, he said, adding that up to seven people were wounded.
Ayyildiz praised the actions of policeman Fethi Sekin who carried out the control, saying “he was martyred but prevented the loss of many more lives.”
“Looking at the ammunition, it seems the aim was a massive massacre,” Kaynak said.
Reports said that two Kalashnikovs, seven rockets and eight grenades were seized.
Turkish authorities meanwhile were seeking to close in on the Istanbul club attacker. Of the 39 dead, 27 were foreigners including citizens from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq and Morocco.
A top official said the attacker was likely a Turkic Uighur and reports have indicated the authorities are looking into the possible existence of a cell, also including other extremists from Central Asia.
The Islamic State group took responsibility for the massacre in a statement on Monday, the first time it has issued a clear and undisputed claim for a major attack inside Turkey.
The extremist group said it was a response to Ankara’s military operation against the extremists in northern Syria, where Turkish armed forces are supporting opposition fighters retaking territory from the Islamic State.
Kaynak said airports had taken measures to ensure the killer did not flee Turkey and Dogan news agency reported that the authorities also tightened land borders.
The agency said checkpoints would be set up to search all vehicles and people leaving the country at border crossings in Edirne, western Turkey, which has a land border with Greece and Bulgaria.
Kaynak described the massacre as “sophisticated and well planned,” suggesting the shooter is part of a “well formed cell.”
Special forces detained several people Uighur origin suspected of links with the Istanbul attack on the outskirts of the city on Thursday, Anadolu said.
Excluding the latest arrests, at least 36 had been detained in the probe by Wednesday.
Authorities had on Tuesday detained 20 adults — along with 20 of their children — from three families in Izmir.
Those held had moved to Izmir on Dec. 10 from the central city of Konya, where they are suspected of having been in touch with the killer during his stay there.
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