Turkey’s air force attacked suspected Kurdish rebel targets near its border with Iraq, killing at least 20 people, many of them smugglers mistaken for guerrillas, officials said Thursday.
The Turkish military declined to confirm or deny whether it had carried out the Wednesday night raid on both sides of the border.
Turkey’s Dogan news agency said the attacks occurred near the Turkish village of Ortasu in Sirnak near Iraq, a country where Kurdish rebels are based, and killed more than 20 people. The report said the raids were launched after drones and thermal cameras located a “crowded group” near Ortasu.
On Thursday morning, video footage provided by the Dogan agency showed people surrounding dozens of bodies, lying side-by-side and wrapped in blankets.
Sirnak’s governor, Vahdettin Ozkan, said at least 20 people were killed in that attack but gave no other details, saying a statement would be issued later.
Pro-Kurdish legislator Nazmi Gur said at least 35 people died, most of them teenagers who were trying to make money by carrying diesel from Iraq into Turkey on donkeys or horses. Gur said the diesel trade is often the region’s only livelihood in such villages and that officials would have known that smugglers would be operating in the area.
Kurdish rebels have long used northern Iraq as a springboard for hit-and-run attacks on Turkish targets in a campaign for autonomy in Turkey’s Kurdish-dominated southeast.
This year Turkey’s air force has launched dozens of air raids on suspected rebel bases and other targets in northern Iraq and along the Turkish side of the mountainous border.
Recently, the United States has deployed four Predator drones to Turkey from Iraq following the American troops’ withdrawal from the country to assist Turkey in its fight against the rebels.
The rebels belong to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast. Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict since 1984.