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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 November 2018

Turkey silent on airport blast claimed by militants

Family of cleaner killed in blast has received no explanation of her death from government.
A window damaged by the blast at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport on December 23, 2015. Sener Yilmaz Aslan / SIPA / REX /Shutterstock
A window damaged by the blast at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport on December 23, 2015. Sener Yilmaz Aslan / SIPA / REX /Shutterstock

The family of a cleaner killed in an explosion at Istanbul’s second largest airport have called on the government to provide an explanation for her death amid deteriorating security in Turkey.

Zehra Yamac, a 30-year-old mother of two, died on Wednesday from head injuries caused by the blast at Sabiha Gokcen.

On Saturday, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons claimed responsibility for what they said was a mortar attack on the airport, but the Turkish authorities have refused to say what caused the explosion.

The airport, located on the Asian side of Istanbul, has served more than 26 million passengers so far this year. If confirmed, the attack would show militants have the ability to target a major transport hub in the country’s largest city and a major international tourist destination

No one from the Turkish government or security forces have contacted Yamac’s family to explain what happened, her cousin Hicaz Atsiz told The National on Sunday. Instead, parliamentarians from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) “called us and said that it was fate and it could happen to anyone, so it is better to accept Allah’s will,” he said.

Another cleaner working with Yamac inside a parked Pegasus Airlines plane was wounded. Five planes were damaged and some witnesses said they heard multiple explosions during the incident, which took place in the early hours, according to local media.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, believed to be a breakaway faction of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), said it carried out the attack in response to stepped up Turkish military action against Kurdish militants. “This attack by mortar shells will also be the beginning of our new period of action,” the group said in a statement reported by Kurdish news agency Firat. The group also accused the Turkish government of forming a “coalition” with ISIL to displace Kurds.

Ankara has fought a decades-long war against the PKK, which seeks autonomy for Kurds in south-eastern Turkey. More than 40,000 people have been killed. Last July, an attempt at peace talks fell apart and the PKK ended a two-year truce, resuming attacks on Turkish security forces. Over the past months, the Turkish military has responded with an offensive in the country’s majority Kurdish south-east and air strikes on PKK bases in northern Iraq.

Yamac, herself Kurdish, was born in Igdir, in Turkey’s far east near the border with Armenia. She lived in Istanbul with her husband and two children, aged seven and two and a half years. According to her cousin Mr Atsiz, she was unhappy at work because her colleagues “did not like her”. Mr Atsiz blamed this on the political situation in the country, where Kurds can face animosity.

“We definitely want an explanation about what happened and how my cousin died in an airport full of security forces,” Mr Atsiz said.

Pegasus Airlines staff visited Yamac’s husband and said the company would pay for their children’s education and, for a limited time, rent for the family’s home, Mr Atsiz added.

Yamac’s husband is an electrician who works on temporary jobs but lacks full-time employment.

International affairs expert Soli Ozel said that media outlets have “downplayed” the incident. “In my judgement it is a lot more serious than it was covered,” said Mr Ozel, a professor at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

The incident was the latest in a series of recent attacks, including an October suicide bombing in Ankara that killed 103. The government blamed ISIL militants for the attack.

Despite the frequency of attacks, Mr Ozel said that a large segment of Turkey’s population “doesn’t seem to be terribly concerned”. Only a minority of citizens care about the attacks and the “linkage between them,” Mr Ozel said.

“I hope that it is not a harbinger for things to come.”

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, which only rarely carries out operations, also claimed responsibly for a 2010 suicide bombing in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square, which killed the bomber and injured 32 people.

“I really doubt that the PKK or the security forces care about the civilians lives that have been wasted,” Mr Ozel said.

Attempts to obtain comment from Turkish government officials were unsuccessful.

jvela@thenational.ae