ANKARA, Turkey — Suspected Kurdish rebels detonated a remote-controlled bomb in Istanbul Tuesday, killing four people and wounding 12 on a bus carrying military personnel and their families, the governor said.
Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu said two of the wounded were in critical condition following the early morning attack. The state-run Anatolia agency said the dead included the 17-year-old daughter of an officer.
Kurdish rebels have repeatedly staged bomb attacks in Istanbul in the past but the last major bomb attack in the city was in 2007, when 17 people were killed.
Kurdish rebels fighting for autonomy in the country’s Kurdish-dominated southeast have dramatically stepped up their attacks on Turkish targets this month and had threatened to expand their war to cities in the west of the country.
The roadside bomb went off on a usually quiet side road as the bus passed shortly after leaving a military housing complex, NTV television said.
CNN-Turk television said there was no immediate claim of responsibility but that Kurdish rebels are believed to be behind the attack. The rebel group rarely claims credit for its attacks.
Turkish troops killed seven Kurdish rebels in the country’s north and southeast in two separate clashes overnight, the Anatolia agency said. The rebels have killed at least 13 soldiers in the region since Friday.
Kurdish rebels dramatically stepped up their attacks on June 1, accusing Turkey of not establishing dialogue with them or imprisoned Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan and refusing to declare an unconditional amnesty that would include top rebel leaders, or allow Kurdish language education in schools.
Turkey firmly rules out dialogue with the rebel group, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, but is granting more cultural and political rights to Kurds in the hope of reducing support for rebels in the poor southeast.
But the escalation of violence seriously threatens to derail the reconciliation process, with each attack fueling nationalism and deepening anger on both sides.
The rebels belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, have used northern Iraq as a springboard to stage hit-and-run attacks on Turkish targets in their decades-long campaign for autonomy in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast. The Turkish military says around 4,000 rebels are based just across the border in Iraq and that about 2,500 operate inside Turkey.
Turkish warplanes often have bombed Kurdish rebel hideouts there, and troops have crossed the border to hunt the rebels down. The last major ground incursion into Iraq was in February 2008, but the rebels made a comeback after the troops withdrew.
Turkey’s military chief, Gen. Ilker Basbug, on Monday did not rule out the possibility of a new major cross-border offensive.