ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s military said its fighter jets attacked Kurdish separatist targets in northern Iraq on Tuesday and killed a number of guerrillas.
The raids followed a double bomb attack in Istanbul on Sunday night in which 17 people were killed and which authorities suggest were the work of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
The PKK denies any involvement in the bombings and no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the worst in Turkey since 2003.
The army said its warplanes destroyed a cave being used by some 30 to 40 PKK militants in the remote Qandil mountains and that some rebels had been killed. They also struck other targets in the Zap area of northern Iraq.
The PKK uses northern Iraq as a base from which to stage attacks on Turkish territory. Turkey blames the PKK, which is fighting for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey, for the deaths of 40,000 people in the past 25 years.
“The cave was destroyed totally in the air attacks. Most of those terrorists outside the cave, along with an unspecified number inside, were killed,” the military said in a statement on its website.
The deaths could not be independently confirmed.
Abdulla Ibrahim Ahmed, head of nearby Sangesar district, said: “There was Turkish aerial bombardment on the Qandil region from about 11 to 12 this morning. The bombardment caused structural damage but there were no casualties.”
Turkey’s military launched a big ground offensive against the PKK inside northern Iraq in February, causing concern in the United States about regional instability.
Istanbul Governor Muammer Guler has said Sunday’s blasts appeared to have links to the PKK, but added that police were still investigating the incidents.
Interior Minister Besir Atalay told parliament on Tuesday: “We know that various terror groups are preparing bombings to raise the poor morale of their members after their losses. He said police had prevented some bombing attempts, some of which had been made public but some not.
Turkey is also in the throes of political turmoil, sparked by a Constitutional Court case that could result in the closure of the ruling AK Party on charges that it has sought to introduce Islamic law in the officially secular but predominantly Muslim country.
The party denies the charges. A verdict is expected in early August.