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Turkey accuses Kurdish militants in deadly Istanbul bombing

Police officers stand guard after an explosion on Istanbul's popular Istiklal Avenue late Sunday. (Emrah Gurel/AP)
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ISTANBUL — Turkish authorities have detained 46 suspects in connection with a deadly bomb attack on one of Istanbul’s busiest shopping streets, including a woman they said had planted the explosives, police said Monday.

The explosion, which occurred Sunday afternoon on Istiklal Avenue as it was teeming with shoppers, killed at least six people and wounded dozens of others.

No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing. Turkish officials have blamed the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has fought a long insurgency against Turkey’s government, for the explosion. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called it a “treacherous attack.”

Six dead after ‘attack’ on busy Istanbul shopping district, Erdogan says

The PKK, for its part, denied any role in the attack and claimed the government was using it as a pretext to move against Kurdish forces in Syria.

“Our people and the democratic public know closely that we are not related to this incident, that we will not directly target civilians and that we do not accept actions targeting civilians,” it said in a statement carried by Kurdish media.

The police on Monday identified the female suspect as a Syrian national named Ahlam Albashir and said she had confessed during an “interrogation” to being trained by Kurdish militants as an intelligence officer. She had entered Turkey illegally via Syria, a police statement said.

A picture shared by the authorities showed the suspect handcuffed and wearing a purple sweatshirt that said “New York.”

Video footage of the explosion showed a small fireball on Istiklal Avenue, a storied shopping thoroughfare in Istanbul’s historic Beyoglu district, and panicked pedestrians fleeing. By Monday morning, the street appeared emptier than normal, apart from a large entourage that followed the city’s mayor as he greeted shop and restaurant workers. Municipal workers dug through planters on the street, looking for hidden objects.

An explosion ripped through a busy shopping thoroughfare in Istanbul on Nov. 13, killing several people and injuring dozens. (Video: Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

Erdogan, in remarks to reporters Sunday shortly before departing Turkey for the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, said, “if we say that this is terror it might be wrong, but with the initial developments and with the information that my governor has relayed to us, there is the smell of terror.”

On Monday, Turkish police said a review of security camera footage showed that after the bombing suspect left the scene, she took a taxi to a district about 12 miles northwest of Beyoglu. There, police said they carried out an operation at 21 different sites linked to the suspect.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Monday that the “order” for the attack came from a town in northern Syria controlled by an affiliate of the PKK. He did not provide further details. Turkey has repeatedly criticized Western countries, including the United States, for supporting a Kurdish-led militia in Syria that helped lead the fight against the Islamic State militant group, and that has ties to the PKK.

Fahrettin Altun, spokesman for the Turkish presidency, said on Twitter that “terror attacks against our civilians are direct and indirect consequences of some countries’ support for terror groups.” He urged other countries to “cease their direct and indirect support” of these groups “if they want Türkiye’s friendship.”

The White House in a statement on Sunday condemned the “act of violence” in Istanbul and expressed its condolences to the victims’ relatives. “We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our NATO Ally Turkiye in countering terrorism,” it said.

The incident once again raised the specter of terrorist violence in Turkey, a country that over the past decade has been a frequent target of attacks carried out by militants from the Islamic State or Kurdish groups, among others.

Soylu on Monday said authorities had prevented nearly 200 such attacks this year.

Istiklal Avenue has been targeted before: It was the site of a suicide bombing in March 2016 that killed five people, including two U.S. nationals, and injured dozens more. The street is usually filled with people — Turkish citizens from Istanbul and beyond, along with tourists from a multitude of countries — strolling or visiting large chain stores that have outlets on Istiklal, as well as a handful of shopping malls.

On evenings and weekend days, the crowds are thick.

Soylu said the dead, all born in Turkey, came from three families. He named them as Arzu Ozsoy and her daughter Yagmur Ucar; Yusuf Meydan and his daughter Ecrin Meydan; and Adem Topkara and Mukaddes Elif Topkara, a married couple.

Mourners gathered near the site of the blast Monday to lay flowers and pay their respects to the victims. Ekrem Imamoglu, Istanbul’s mayor, said in a tweet, “We are all deeply heartbroken and at a loss for words.”