ANKARA: Eighteen people were killed Sunday when a van packed with five tons of explosives blew up in Turkey’s restive southeast in an attack blamed on Kurdish militants.
“The attack was perpetrated by a suicide bomber who detonated a van (packed) with five tons of explosives,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told a news conference in Istanbul.
The bombing, which killed 10 soldiers and eight civilians, was one of the deadliest attacks on Turkish security forces since the attempted coup of July 15 when a rogue military faction tried to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The attack targeted a security post in Hakkari province as security forces were searching vehicles in Semdinli district, the official news agency Anadolu said.
In a statement, the Hakkari governor said a vehicle refused to stop as it approached a checkpoint, resulting in soldiers responding with gunfire. Militants then also started shooting, the governor’s office said, quoted by Dogan news agency.
Twenty-seven others were injured in the blast caused by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Erdogan said in a written statement. Anadolu reported at least 16 of those were civilians.
Soon after the attack, which Anadolu said left a seven-meter (22-foot) deep hole in the road, the military confirmed it had begun a large-scale air operation which the governor’s office said was launched to “neutralize” PKK militants.
The governor said commando units on the ground were continuing to search for PKK fighters.
The White House said it condemned “in the strongest terms the deadly terrorist attack today against a military checkpoint in southeastern Turkey that left many dead, including civilians, and scores more wounded.”
“We remain steadfast in our support for our NATO ally, Turkey, and reaffirm our commitment to continue working together to defeat all forms of terrorism,” Ned Price, the White House National Security Council spokesman said.
Over the past two months, the military says it has killed a total of 387 PKK militants in Hakkari province, CNN-Turk reported.
The PKK, a group that is proscribed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, has waged a 32-year insurgency against the Turkish state, which has left nearly 40,000 dead since 1984.