The Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (Teyrênbazê Azadiya Kurdistan, or TAK), a terrorist group that broke away from Turkey’s militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 2004, claimed responsibility today for Wednesday’s car bomb attack on a bus full of soldiers in the Turkish capital of Ankara that killed 28 and wounded over 60.
The news came one day after the Turkish government announced that the suicide bomber was a member of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the PKK’s Syrian affiliate. Security forces claimed to have discovered an ID card and a severed finger from a 24-year-old Syrian whom they claimed was a PYD operative, and whose family allegedly has connections to Bashar al-Assad’s military intelligence. The PYD strongly denied any involvement in the Ankara attack.
The TAK settled this dispute by announcing that the suicide bomber was Abdulbaki Sönmez, a 26-year-old Kurd from the Turkish city of Van. The TAK declared that the Ankara attack was an act of retaliation for Turkey’s military operations against Kurdish targets in the eastern town of Cizre, including grisly reports that Turkish troops had set fire to wounded militants.
While the TAK is believed to be an affiliate of the PKK, some analysts claim that it has completely severed ties with the PKK. The TAK, designated as terrorists by both Turkey and the United States, has carried out most of its attacks in central and western Turkey, as opposed to the PKK’s area of operation in the country’s heavily Kurdish southeast.
In recent years, the group claimed responsibility for a mortar attack against Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport in December 2015, as well as the August 2006 bombings in the resort towns of Antalya and Marmaris. The TAK has a reputation for carrying out sensational attacks against civilians and foreigners, unlike the PKK, which typically focuses on military targets. This, coupled with their areas of operation, has led some analysts to suggest there is a formal division of labor between the two groups.
For Turkey, it almost doesn’t matter whether Wednesday’s attack was perpetrated by the TAK, the PYD, or the PKK, as Ankara views all three as one and the same. The attack, however, comes at a difficult moment for the United States, which has sought to draw a distinction between the terrorist PKK and the PYD, a crucial ally on the ground in Syria against the Islamic State.
Turkey is trying to leverage Wednesday’s bombing to push the U.S. to declare the PYD a terrorist organization. Washington is not likely to give in to those demands now that the TAK has owned the blast. Thus, the TAK had delivered two blows to the Turkish government: one against a bus full of Turkish soldiers, and the other against Ankara’s campaign to paint the PYD and PKK with the same brush.
Aykan Erdemir is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former member of the Turkish parliament. Follow him on Twitter: @aykan_erdemir