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Explosion In Turkey's Capital Kills Dozens


The investigation of a bombing in Turkey's capital leads to a very awkward place. At least, that's according to Turkish authorities. There fixing blame for a bombing that killed 28 people yesterday in Ankara. The trail, they say, leads across the border into Syria's war. Turkish authorities say the attack involves an ethnic group that is friendly with United States but has deeply strained relations with Turkey. NPR's Peter Kenyon is covering the story. He's on the line. Hi, Peter.


INSKEEP: Will you fix the details in our minds here? What happened?

KENYON: Well, it was yesterday and it was an attack. And a car bomb exploded as military buses were passing in the Turkish capital on a pretty busy street. Twenty-eight people killed, over 60 wounded, huge fires, and this all happened quite near a main military headquarters. So it's a serious blow.

INSKEEP: Pretty major blow. Who are Turkish authorities blaming?

KENYON: Well, we just heard from the Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. He confirmed some early media accounts that the man behind the bombing, according to Turkish authorities, is a Syrian national named Saleh Najar. And now Davutoglu goes on to say nine people have been arrested in connection with this. But then he also goes on to link Najar with this Syrian Kurdish fighting group. They're known as the YPG. They're battling the Islamic State in northern Syria. The Americans like that. The Turks do not like them. They say they're linked to Turkish Kurdish militants. They've got their own name, the PKK. And Turkey's been attacking them, and everyone's been trying to get them to stop it. So this bombing certainly complicates that tremendously.

INSKEEP: Well, how is Turkey responding, then, to this fixing of blame?

KENYON: Well, besides this rhetoric that we're hearing and the vow to retaliate, we're seeing stuff on the ground. In Iraq, next door, the Turkish Air Force has resumed airstrikes in the Qandil Mountains where the PKK, the Turkish Kurds, have bases. So the violence is continuing.

INSKEEP: I guess we should just remind people this is an ethnic group that does not have its own state and is spread among several different states in the region. So it's a factor in Syria. It's a factor in Iraq. And the reason the Turks would be nervous about them is because they're a factor in eastern Turkey.

KENYON: They are the largest ethnic minority. And there had been a peace process that collapsed. And the fighting has been quite intense in recent months. That's right.

INSKEEP: So has Turkey then fully turned against the Kurds in Syria who are among the few Syrian rebels who have been able to fight ISIS effectively?

KENYON: It would certainly seem so. They've been trying to convince the Americans that the PYD and the YPG - those are the two acronyms for the Syrian Kurdish groups - are terrorist groups just like the Turkish Kurds, and that they have to be treated as such. The Americans say, no, we don't see it that way. They're fighting ISIS, they're doing a good job. So this shelling across the border by Turkey against these Syrian Kurdish positions is really complicating efforts to get any kind of cessation of hostilities. I mean, you can imagine the U.N. trying to go in and untangle all these different threads - Russia, the U.S., the Turks all seeing different enemies on the ground and proceeding with their attacks. How they can get the fighting to stop in order to get this food and medicine to people who may be starving in these besieged areas? That just remains to be seen.

INSKEEP: So help me get to the bottom line here, Peter. Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States, but given everything that you've said, are Turkey and the United States really on the same side when it comes to the war in Syria?

KENYON: Well, yes and no, I mean, which puts them on a par with a lot of the other allies in this fight. Turkey is basically on the same side of fighting the Islamic State, or ISIS, and America has reiterated that time and time again. But this Kurdish group is a huge problem, and it continues to be a main sticking point.

INSKEEP: NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Istanbul. Peter, thanks as always.

KENYON: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.