Security tightened after blast kills five in Turkey

By Meriel Beattie
Saturday 17 September 2011 13:13

Holidaymakers in Turkey's seaside resorts have returned to the beaches, alongside police and sniffer dogs, after the bomb on Saturday that destroyed a minibus, killing five people, including an Irish schoolgirl and a 21-year-old British woman.

The Foreign Office named the British woman as Helen Bennett. Her fiancé, Michael Stables, 23, is critically ill in hospital. Two other Britons - Adam Brown and Michael Aspinall - were among at least 12 others injured in the blast at the Aegean resort of Kusadasi. The Irish foreign minstry named the dead girl as Tara Whelan, 17, from County Waterford. Three Turkish passengers died.

The bombing, the second such attack on a Turkish resort in a week, has unnerved Turkey's tourist industry, which is the country's second biggest source of revenue. At two of its most fashionable destinations, Bodrum and Marmaris, paramilitary officers with sniffer dogs have been stopping and searching vehicles.

Residents in Kusadasi said the town was quieter than normal, with a noticeably heavy police presence. A Union flag, an Irish tricolour, a Turkish flag and bouquets of flowers have been placed near the spot on the palm-lined boulevard where the bomb went off as the minibus was on its way to one of the local beaches.

"Everybody here feels so bad," said Reza Bas, 26, a local tour guide. "We always say there is no religion in tourism. The people who died here were Muslims, Catholics, other Christians. This is simply terrorism."

Who detonated the bomb - and why - remains a mystery. Officials initially said they believed it was a suicide bomber, but this seemed less likely after the dead passengers were identified. Police are now investigating whether the bomb was planted on the bus - or if it exploded by accident while being taken somewhere else. No group has admitted responsibility. Suspicion immediately fell on Kurdish separatists, but leftist and Islamist groups have also been active.

Last week a group called the Kurdish Freedom Falcons (TAK) said it planted a bomb on 10 July in Cesme, another Aegean resort, in which 20 people were injured, including a 63-year-old Briton. The TAK, which is believed to have close links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), also admitted a previous bomb in Kusadasi in April, which killed a policeman.

The PKK quickly denied involvement. On Saturday, a PKK commander, Zubeyir Aydar, condemned the Kusadasi attack in a statement to the German-based Mezopotamya News Agency.

The resort bombings coincide with a flare-up in fighting between Kurdish separatists and the Turkish military. More than 35,000 people - mostly Kurds - are thought to have been killed in the conflict since 1984. Although the PKK declared a unilateral ceasefire in 1999, it called it off last year.

The Turkish military says the PKK is benefiting from a rich supply of weapons, particularly the military explosive C4,stolen from Iraqi munition caches shortly after the US-led invasion.

Local government officials in Sirnak, in the south-east, said yesterday that 10 "terrorists" had been killed in a military strike against the PKK last week. They said rifles, rocket launchers, hand-grenades and 25kg of explosives, including C4, had been seized from the militants.

Most of the conflict takes place in the south-east, home to Turkey's large Kurdish minority. The emergence of the TAK last August and its recent targeting of western resorts is a new development.

Many analysts suspect the TAK and PKK are one and the same. "This is a pseudonym for the PKK, which doesn't want to declare itself behind this kind of attack," said Professor Dogu Ergil, a political scientist at Ankara University. "Attacking a tourist resort is easy publicity, less risk, softer targets that are ultimately indefensible. There are so many resorts. You can't protect them all."

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