The Turkish Interior Ministry says hundreds of people have been arrested during nationwide counter-terrorism operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group, a day after the militants killed 13 Turkish civilians in Iraq’s northern semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.
The ministry announced in a statement on Monday that counter-terrorism units of the Security Directorate and Gendarmerie Command carried out operations in 40 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, detaining a total of 718 suspects.
It noted that provincial and district heads of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) were among those captured.
The Turkish government has long accused the HDP of having links to the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States as well as the European Union, and has been calling for an autonomous Kurdish region since 1984.
The HDP, which is Turkey's second-largest opposition party, denies all formal links to the PKK.
Monday’s detentions came in the wake of the execution of 13 Turkish citizens by PKK terrorists in a cave in northern Iraq's Gara region.
“In a search of a cave taken under control, the bodies of 13 of our abducted citizens were found. In a first inspection it was determined that 12 of our innocent and unarmed citizens were shot in the head and martyred and one shot in the chest and martyred,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said.
“According to initial information given by two terrorists captured alive, our citizens were martyred at the start of the operation by the terrorist responsible for the cave,” he noted at the operation’s control center near the Iraq border, which he was visiting with military officials.
The PKK said the 13 men had died when Turkish forces bombed the cave, where the captives were being kept.
Speaking at the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) congress in the Black Sea province of Rize on Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the US has sided with the PKK and its Syrian offshoot, the so-called People's Protection Units (YPG), providing truckloads of ammunition to them.
“The US statement on the PKK’s execution of Turkish citizens in northern Iraq is ridiculous. They claim they do not support the PKK, but they certainly do,” Erdogan commented.
“If you want to continue our alliance globally and at NATO, then you must stop siding with terrorists,” he added.
The Turkish president said that the blood of innocent people killed in northern Iraq is on the hands of all those who defend, support and sympathize with PKK terrorists.
Last week, the Turkish military launched out the Claw-Eagle 2 operation in northern Iraq against PKK terrorists.
The forces carried out launched Operations Claw-Tiger and Claw-Eagle in the area last June.
Back on January 20, Akar said Turkey was prepared to provide assistance to Iraq in clearing PKK militants from the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.